Honourable senators, there was a time when I was a reporter. In the late 1980s, I was assigned from London to go to Iran. We were welcomed; we were actually given an invitation by the Iranian government at the time for Western journalists to go there. I knew this trip wasn’t going to go very well when we were pinned down in Shatt al-Arab waterway with Iran and Iraq still fighting. It was a pretty horrible week in my life. I never thought I would say it — and I never say publicly — but when they took us back in a Hercules to Tehran, “My goodness, it feels good to be back in Tehran.”
However, when you get back to Tehran, they had us journalists walking in. They had on the carpet the picture of the President of the United States. You had to take a running jump; they wanted you to wipe your feet on the face of the President of the United States. I wasn’t going to do that, so I had to do a running jump to get over this carpet.
Then, when you get in to check into your hotel, the sign was up above it: “Death to America.” I knew this was going to be a pretty tough trip.
But over all these years, I don’t think a whole lot has changed. I know there has been outreach and that there are wonderful, good people in Iran who are not allowed to have a voice, and we have seen that in terms of some of the disruptions on the streets of Tehran.
I rise today, honourable senators, to draw your attention to the plight of Navid Khanjani, a brave and resilient human rights activist who requires our immediate attention. Twenty-nine-year- old Navid is in prison for his peaceful human rights activism and affiliations with human rights groups in Iran. However, because Navid so happens to be of Baha’i faith, the Iranian authorities have reacted much more harshly toward him compared to other human rights activists who have been persecuted in Iran. Navid was first arrested in March 2010 in his hometown of Isfahan and taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison. I stood outside that prison and shivered to know what was going on inside. In December 2010, an Iranian court sentenced him to a total of 15 years in prison on ludicrous charges like disturbing the public mind and propaganda against the regime. In order words, Navid was sentenced to 15 years in prison for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. At the time, this was the heaviest prison sentence handed down to a human rights activist in Iran. However, a year later, Iranian authorities slightly reduced his sentence to a 12-year term. Navid was eventually released from Evin Prison on a heavy bail of $100,000 U.S. But in summer 2012 he was arrested again as he was volunteering as a relief worker for victims of a devastating earthquake that hit the East Azerbaijan Province in Iran. In August 2012, Iranian authorities arrested Navid, along with 40 other earthquake relief volunteers.
For the past six years, Navid has endured long durations in solitary confinement and has been subjected to physical and psychological torture. Navid is currently in the notorious Rajai Shahr Prison where he is held with other political prisoners including Saeed Shirzad, another activist who was arrested in the summer 2012 for providing aid to earthquake victims. Imagine.
Honourable senators, please join me in urging the Iranian authorities to allow the United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed to visit Iran. By the way, Mr. Shaheed appeared in our Human Rights Committee by teleconference from Geneva last week. Here he is the human rights rapporteur dealing with Iran, but they won’t let him go into Iran. What does that say?
As a member of the Canadian Senate, I call for the immediate release of prisoner of conscience, Navid Khajani.