1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 52

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Human Rights in Iran

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Frum, calling the attention of the Senate to egregious human rights abuses in Iran, particularly the use of torture and the cruel and inhuman treatment of unlawfully incarcerated political prisoners.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the motion on the conditions of Iranian prisoners. I want to thank Senator Frum for initiating this motion. As she and you all are aware, I have raised these issues on the situation of prisoners in Iran on a number of occasions, and I had also commenced an inquiry in which Senator Segal and Senator Dallaire participated.

I rise today to join my colleagues in the Senate in denouncing the unjustifiable imprisonment of prisoners of conscience in Iran and their detention in unspeakable conditions.

It is common for prisoners of conscience in Iran to be placed in prolonged solitary confinement and subjected to deprivations, intimidation and torture in an attempt to extract false confessions from them.

From arrests without warrant to the courts’ refusal to issue written judgment, the legal process makes a mockery of justice. Prisoners are held in crowded conditions, lacking adequate sanitation, daylight, clean water, exercise and fresh air, and also may be denied access to the necessary level of medical care.

Some have no beds and must sleep on concrete floors. Prisoners who complain about the conditions are beaten. Routinely, prisoners are separated from their parents, spouses and/or children by a glass partition during their infrequent and very short family visits. Some are transferred to the general ward where they must live alongside the most hardened and violent criminals.

In the words of Abdolkarim Lahiji, the Paris-based vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, the condition in Iranian prisons are “catastrophic.”

These conditions are intolerable for any human being, but are particularly so for women, whose additional needs are not met and whose children are deprived of their care.

Some of the prisoners of conscience unjustly detained in Iranian prisons are women who launched the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality that inspired ordinary Iranians to call for the repeal of laws discriminating against women.

Others are women who hope to contribute to the development of their country by promoting respect for human rights. Still others are political activists who were working peacefully to bring about change in the way their country is governed. All are unjustly denied rights enshrined in international human rights instruments to which Iran is a signatory.

For over 25 years I had represented many Iranians who had fled Iran. Today, I want to voice their pain and suffering as well. They lost their property; they lost their loved ones; they forever lost their peace of mind from the terrible torture they suffered in Iran. There were many days after representing Iranian asylum seekers I would dream of the situation at Evin Prison — Evin Prison being the most despicable prison on earth. Some Iranians have survived from Evin Prison. They have because of their sheer inner strength, as the Iranian government tried very hard to break them.

Honourable senators, I stand before you to state that there is no fear worse in this world than the knock of authorities who come to take your loved ones — loved ones who want to change conditions of their citizens.

My mother worked in the prisons in 1970 in Uganda and was one of the first people to speak of Idi Amin’s tortures in jails. She would describe how when the prison guards ran out of bullets, they bludgeoned people to death. She would describe the unbearable pain and screams of Ugandans wrongly detained. At her funeral, many people told us how many lives she saved.

Many of my father’s friends have also disappeared in Uganda. Then the knock came at my father’s home. Luckily, my father had just escaped, but we did not know that, and the pain of not knowing for days where my father was was unbearable. We did not know where he was for many days. It did not end there. There was yet another knock at our house. The authorities brutally took my husband, Nuralla. The fear in his eyes, the fear in my father-in-law’s eyes, the fear in my mother-in-law’s eyes, and the fear in the eyes of my husband’s siblings still haunts me. Happily for me, my husband did survive this brutal experience. Every story that each one of you have related brought back flashbacks to me of what happened to people, what happened to us.


Sadly, every day many people are taken prisoner all around the world. To name a few, the women in Zimbabwe, the priests in Tibet, the children in Syria — and the list goes on.

Our Canadian government has always played and continues to play a very important part all around the world. Exactly 40 years ago, Asian Ugandans were rescued, and at another time I will speak of the brave Canadians who saved us.

Today, I also want to remember a Canadian, Zahra Kazemi, who also lost her life at the hands of Iranian authorities. As a member of the Canadian Senate, I condemn the deplorable abuse of human rights by the Iranian regime and call upon the Government of Canada — the only government that I can call upon — to work hard to ensure the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, not only in Iran, but also around the world. As I stated earlier in my statement today, I would like to repeat the words of His Highness the Aga Khan, an honorary Canadian, as his words will describe better than whatever I say. When he was conferred a doctorate by the University of Ottawa recently, His Highness said something incredibly profound. He stated:

In my experience, a country’s standing in our contemporary world is no longer recognized by what it can achieve for itself, but by what it can do for others. In this context, Canada has truly become a great world power.