Although the Iranian
people have demonstrated by the thousands in past weeks for greater democracy
and an end to clerical rule in their country, their plight has largely gone
unreported in the Western media. The United States, in its resolve to bring
terrorists to heel in the Middle East, has stood virtually alone in condemning
the gross human rights violations of Iranians at the hands of the mullahs
and their extremist supporters.
Given the world’s silence, it is not surprising that the Muslim clerics have
brutally clamped down on dissent. With few international leaders beyond George
Bush and Tony Blair willing to speak out against the atrocities that are
occurring in Iran, religious authorities have been virtually given a carte
blanche to terrorize the populace to maintain their hold on power. Beatings,
abductions, arrests and executions have now become a regular feature of the
Iranian political scene.
Canada, unlike its American neighbor to the south, has until recently opted
to sit on the sidelines as history has unfolded in Iran. With the Middle
Eastern country representing an export market worth some $500 million for
Canadian wheat alone, Ottawa has chosen not to side with Iranian demonstrators
or join with Washington in condemning the theocracy’s human rights infractions.
Controlled engagement, as opposed to the U.S. policy of economic isolation,
has been Canada’s preferred means to effect political change in the rogue
The death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi on July 10th, however, has awakened
Canadians from their complacency and revealed the futility of continued trade
and dialogue as a strategy to promote Iranian political reform. A dual Canadian-Iranian
citizen, Kazemi, 54, was arrested while photographing protesters in front
of the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, often called the “Iranian Auschwitz.”
Brutally beaten by her abductors for refusing to admit she was a “spy,” the
middle-aged Kazemi died of massive head injuries in a hospital run by the
hard-line Revolutionary Guard three weeks after her detention.
Iranian authorities, as would be expected, have attempted to cover up and
downplay the incident, much to the anger of Kazemi’s family and the Canadian
government. Initially, the official Iranian news agency listed Kazemi’s cause
of death as an accidental “brain stroke” that resulted from a fall. Under
pressure, however, the government admitted it was a beating that caused the
photographer’s death, promising to look into the matter.
The exact circumstances of Kazemi’s demise remain shrouded in mystery, given
that the body was quickly buried in Iran and a full and impartial investigation
has yet to be conducted. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, has asked that his
mother’s body be exhumed and sent to Canada for examination and burial, but
the Iranian government has so far refused to honor this simple request. Iranian
officials claim that Ms. Kazemi’s mother wished her daughter buried in the
family hometown of Shiraz, though reports indicate the elderly woman was
pressured into allowing the body to be buried there.
In a sign that the Canadian government may abandon its policy of engagement
and adopt a harder line with Tehran, Prime Minister Jean Chretien expressed
Canada’s displeasure with Iran’s handling of the affair and recalled Canadian
ambassador Philip MacKinnon. Canada is also presently mulling over the possibility
of imposing economic sanctions on Iran and slapping restrictions on Iranian
business people and students traveling to Canada.
Foreign Ministry has called Canada’s decision to recall its ambassador as
“unacceptable” and urged the Canadian government to tone down its “irrational”
and “hasty” comments. To add insult to injury, Interior Minister Abdolvahed
Moussavi-Lari, a cabinet minister assigned by President Mohammed Khatami
to investigate the affair, said the case "has nothing to do with Canada"
since Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. Khatami as well has chided
Canada for allegedly overreacting.
official reactions not only represent a diplomatic affront to Canada, but
also reveal the moral bankruptcy and callousness of the clerical regime and
the lengths Iran’s rulers will go to maintain their hold on power. So-called
“moderates” in the government such as Khatami appear to be no different from
the hardliners who pull their strings behind the scenes.
truly wishes to take a stand for justice and freedom, it is time for Ottawa
to disengage from Iran and encourage its allies to do the same. As recent
atrocities in Iran such as the Kazemi murder illustrate, dialogue and trade
have done nothing to alter the current regime’s behavior. Only economic sanctions
and overt support for anti-mullah forces will change this ancient land for
the better. Greater democracy, not terror, must be encouraged in Iran: Zahra
Kazemi’s death should not be in vain.
Owen Rathbone is a political commentator based in Osaka, Japan.