An article by Toronto Star newspaper about three Iranian-Canadians who were arrested by Iranian Revolutionary guards when they went back to Iran to visit their families,in 2008. All three of them have been detained in Evin prison.
By Olivia Ward Foreign Affairs Reporter
In October, 2008, Saeed Malekpour’s new life in Canada looked as golden as the sunlight on the autumn foliage.
With a degree in metallurgical engineering from a prestigious Iranian university he was happily settled in Ontario and about to enroll in a master’s program at University of Victoria.
But a decision to visit his dying father in Tehran changed his life forever.
Malekpour is in Iran’s feared Evin prison awaiting what the court has told him will be a death sentence. His cellmate, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall of Toronto, is already facing execution.
Meanwhile Toronto blogger Hussein Derakhshan is serving a 20-year sentence. They have been charged with offences ranging from insulting Islam to cyber crimes and plotting against the clerical regime.
Their families’ anxiety is magnified by the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death on charges of adultery and complicity in her husband’s murder.
Although an original sentence of stoning to death was suspended after worldwide outcry, rumours of her imminent hanging continue. Earlier this week Iran called them “baseless claims” meant to “create a poisonous atmosphere” against Iran.
That’s small comfort to Fatima Eftekhari, a physicist and research scientist from St. Catharines, who last glimpsed her husband, Malekpour, as a thin and sickly prisoner.
“He disappeared four days after his arrival,” she said. “He went to the university to get a confirmation of his degree for his master’s application. Then my sister-in-law called me in the middle of the night and said that Saeed hadn’t come home.”
Eftekhari, who was booked to follow her husband to Tehran, arrived three weeks later, in November, to a Kafkaesque scenario.
“I got a call from somebody who didn’t introduce himself. He said ‘if you want to know about your husband come to this address.’ When I reached it they held me for four hours, interrogated me, insulted me, screamed at me and treated me like a criminal. I was panicked. There were three of them, all big men. I just kept thinking I would never see my husband or parents again. Here, if you’re detained you can hire a lawyer. In Iran everything is hidden. And then you’re gone.”
Eftekhari was released, and later allowed a brief visit with Malekpour who was “almost unrecognizable” after more than a month of torture and detention. She left the country at his urging. His torment was only beginning.
Supporting himself as a computer programmer in Canada, Malekpour was charged with “Internet offences,” that included “designing and moderating adult content websites” as well as agitating against the regime, insulting Iran’s president and Supreme Leader, and having contact with “foreign entities,” a euphemism for spying.
He may also be accused as a “corrupter of the earth,” an undefined charge that warrants the death sentence. Savage interrogation and a forced confession followed.
“After severe beatings, one of the interrogators threatened to pull out my tooth with a pair of tongs,” he wrote in a letter that reached his family. “One of my (teeth) broke and my jaw was displaced after I was kicked in the face. However, the physical tortures were nothing compared to the psychological torments. I endured long solitary confinement (totalling more than one year), constant threats to arrest and torture my wife and family if I did not cooperate, threats to kill me. “
After Malekpour’s “confession,” he was told to expect a death sentence, and the verdict is to be delivered this month.
Malekpour’s cellmate, Ghassemi-Shall, has already been condemned, and his wife Antonella Mega lives in fear that the death sentence will be carried out.
“I can’t even express myself when I think of it,” she says.
Like Malekpour, the Toronto shoe salesman was visiting a seriously ill relative in Iran when he was arrested two years ago on spying charges, shortly after his brother in Tehran was jailed, then died in detention.
Ghassemi-Shall is a Canadian citizen, while Malekpour is a Canadian resident who emigrated from Iran in 2004.
Derakhshan, famed for popularizing blogging in Iran, is also a Canadian. He was given 20 years for “cooperating with a hostile regime” and spreading propaganda.
But Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, and treats visiting emigrants as Iranians. Thousands, like the imprisoned men — who are not political refugees — frequently return for family visits without incident.
The Canadian government, a strident critic of the Iranian regime, has so far been unable to obtain their release. But Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has taken up the case of Ghassemi-Shall, a ray of hope for his family.
Why were the three men singled out for such draconian charges and abuse?
“There’s a pervasive culture of brutality, and people can be arrested for any number of reasons,” says McGill University law professor and former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan, who monitors human rights in Iran.
“It shows that Iran is much more chaotic than we believe it to be. There’s in-fighting among various groups who have their own agendas. Even people who think they are immune can be arrested. At the end of the day the regime has to understand there is a price to pay for human rights violations.”