Sanction ‘architects’ of Iranian repression: activists

Irwin Cotler, at the podium, is surrounded by parliamentarians and advocates for human rights in Iran, at a press conference in Ottawa on May 9.

Activists for human rights in Iran and relatives of imprisoned activists called for Canada to take a leadership role in holding the Iranian regime to account, at a press conference on Parliament Hill on May 9.

Former justice minister Irwin Cotler, founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, along with members of the House standing committee on foreign affairs and international development, and other parliamentarians, held the press conference to coincide with the start of the annual Iran Accountability Week.

They called on the Canadian government to impose sanctions on “the individual architects of repression in Iran,” including government ministers, judges, prosecutors general and heads of prisons.

“These courageous activists have put not only their livelihoods, but their very lives, on the line in the pursuit of justice and the peaceful protection of fundamental rights. Their call for support is as clear as it is compelling, and we should heed it,” said Cotler.

“In implementing targeted sanctions, Canada could help them realize rights over repression in Iran.”


The press conference was preceded by a special hearing before the foreign affairs committee and was followed by a public forum of leading Iranian women’s rights advocates.

Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s only Nobel Peace Prize recipient, expressed her support for imposing sanctions and called on Canada to be more vocal on behalf of Iranian political prisoners and imprisoned dual nationals.

Her call was echoed by Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of jailed British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who spoke on behalf of the families of foreign hostages in Iran.

“My wife Nazanin was arrested on holiday in Iran and has been held in an Iranian prison for over three years,” he said.

“She is one of a wave of foreign and dual nationals in Iran from the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Canada, such as Saeed Malekpour and Mariam Mombeini, held through arbitrary charges and used explicitly as diplomatic leverage.

“I am calling on the Canadian government and Parliament … to make clear hostage-taking is not acceptable. It is no way to conduct diplomacy.”

Leaders of Iran’s women’s rights movement similarly called for urgent action, underscoring the record number of arbitrary arrests of women’s rights defenders in Iran and the state-sanctioned repression and torture of women.

“These brave women are on the frontlines of the global struggle for women’s dignity and equality. Supporting them would be the highest expression of Canada’s feminist foreign policy,” said Shaparak Shajarazideh, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for leading women’s rights protests and was freed by iconic human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is now herself imprisoned on a sentence of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Shajarazideh now lives in Canada.

Cotler added that, “It is astonishing that two days after Nasrin Sotoudeh’s … sentence, Iran was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. This culture of impunity – and even reward – must end.”