Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 36

Thursday, December 1, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Baha’i People in Iran

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: I rise before you today to speak, once again, about the violation of the rights of Baha’is in Iran. Since I last addressed the Senate on this issue, the Iranian government has taken yet another unprecedented step in its systemic oppression against the Baha’i minority. Its courts have sentenced seven Baha’i educators for their involvement in the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.

This institute was founded by Baha’is in 1987 to educate the young people, who continue to be denied access to Iranian universities by official state policy. The institute operated in the open, and many of its classes were held in living rooms and around kitchen tables. Former professors, fired from their jobs because of their faith, taught young people such subjects as engineering and psychology.

In May of this year, Iranian authorities launched coordinated raids on some 39 homes and arrested 19 Baha’is. On October 18, we learned that seven Baha’i educators received jail sentences totaling 30 years.

Among those sentenced to four years in prison was Nooshin Khadem, a permanent resident of Canada and an MBA graduate of Carleton University. Nooshin came to Canada because Carleton University recognized her Baha’i Institute studies as the equivalent of an undergraduate education. She then transported her education back to Iran to teach others.

Now she is in jail for committing the “crime” of transporting her education. Two other Baha’is are still awaiting their hearings for similar crimes.

Kamran Rahimian and Faran Hesami completed their graduate studies in psychology counselling at the University of Ottawa. Upon returning to Iran, they married and had a son. They have reportedly been charged with holding “illegal” degrees, degrees they obtained in Canada.

Their two-year-old son now lives with relatives while his parents await their trial date in prison. What cruelty is this, that a government would imprison its citizens for educating others and make the process of learning a crime?

Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Raporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said last month, in New York, that Iran’s persecution of Baha’is is among the most “extreme manifestations of religious intolerance and persecution” in the world today. He went on to say, “The Iranian government has a policy of systematic persecution . . . with the view of even destroying that religion worldwide.”

Earlier this month, the United Nations General Assembly condemned Iran for its serious, ongoing human rights violations. The Canadian-led resolution catalogued the wide range of abuses in Iran, and it passed by its largest margin ever this year.

Honourable senators, as a nation that upholds human rights and values religious pluralism, we must continue to stand up and directly face the threat presented by Iran to its own people. Iran may not listen today, but the Iranian people are listening. They must know that Canada stands with them and will continue to speak up for their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Honourable senators, in our government’s Speech from the Throne it was stated that, in an effort to promote human rights, our government will create a new office of religious freedom that would help protect religious minorities and promote pluralism. I ask that when our government establishes this office, we prioritize the challenges facing the Baha’is in Iran.