As Saeed Malekpour sits in a solitary death row cell in Iran awaiting execution by hanging, advocates in Canada are making a last-ditch effort to save his life.
A group of Liberal MPs say it’s time for the Harper government to take a stand for the 35-year-old Canadian permanent resident.
A freelance website developer in Canada, Malekpour was charged with operating “obscene” websites by Iran’s cyber police soon after he arrived in Tehran to bid farewell to his fatally ill father.
“We cannot have a passive response,” said former justice minister Irwin Cotler, “Malekpour’s execution could come at any time.”
In Parliament Wednesday the MPs, including Cotler, Bryon Wilfert, Dan McTeague and Martha Hall Findlay, tabled petitions signed by dozens of constituents, urging Ottawa to intervene in Malekpour’s case and appeal to the government of Iran.
“The (Harper) government talks about human rights in Iran but not about Malekpour,” Wilfert said. “If the Iranians think that nobody cares, they will do what they like.”
Cotler, an international lawyer, called for sanctions on members of the Iranian regime — including the powerful Revolutionary Guard — who are responsible for executions and violations of human rights.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says it has “limited scope for intervention” in Malekpour’s case because he is still awaiting Canadian citizenship. Nor does Iran recognize dual nationality.
In Toronto on Wednesday, author and former Iranian prisoner Marina Nemat, and Christians for the Abolition of Torture held an event at Massey College for Malekpour and Canadian Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, also facing a death sentence in Iran.
On Thursday, human rights activists are staging a Parliament Hill rally.
In a letter written from prison, Malekpour said he was brutally tortured to obtain a videotaped forced confession: “while I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons and fists struck and punched me.”
He said the torture included electric shocks, and kicks in the face that broke his teeth and jaw.
Malekpour was sentenced to death, and two months ago was put in solitary confinement awaiting execution.
Meanwhile Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a Toronto shoe salesman, is also under a death sentence on espionage charges, after his arrest during a visit to his ailing mother.
Mehdi Khalaji, an Iranian-born expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says there is little doubt that the men’s situation is critical.
“Since December the rate of execution in Iran has increased in an unprecedented way,” he said.
In addition to the announced executions of more than 118 people since December, there are reports that the clerical regime has killed at least 200 in a prison in northeast Iran.
“Whenever they feel they should be (softer) on human rights because of Western pressure they don’t implement sentences,” said Khalaji. “Otherwise they go for it.”
Executions have increased dramatically in Iran since 2005, when hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office.
Many are killed as part of a campaign to rid Iran of drug traffickers, but since the protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s 2009 election, hundreds of people have been rounded up, and reprisals against suspected dissidents have escalated.