Skull fracture, broken fingers, missing fingernails, severe abdominal bruising, burst ear membrane, broken ribs, broken nose, flogging to the legs, evidence of a brutal rape—that is what the doctor described the night the body of 54-year-old Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was brought into a Tehran military hospital. Kazemi endured four days of torture inside the Islamic Republic of Iran’s notorious Evin prison, before arriving brain dead to the hospital. No one has ever been found guilty or held to account for her death.
Thirteen years later, a similar situation is unfolding. Today marks 100 days since Canadian academic Dr. Homa Hoodfar was illegally detained and imprisoned in Iran. She is being held in solitary confinement in the same prison as Kazemi, and last week Canadians were told that Dr. Hoodfar had been taken to hospital in Iran. The press release distributed by her family described Dr. Hoodfar as being “barely able to walk or talk.”
Hoodfar, like Kazemi, had chosen Montreal as her home for the past 30 years. The 67 year-old renowned feminist anthropologist and Concordia University professor writes about Islam and women in the Middle East and had returned to her native Iran to visit family after the death of her husband. Two days prior to her scheduled flight back to Canada, Dr. Hoodfar’s home was raided and her passport and computer confiscated. As a graduate student in gender studies at the University of Toronto, Dr. Hoodfar’s writings were required reading. I never imagined that one day I would be writing about her imprisonment.
Dr. Hoodfar has been indicted and charged with being part of a feminist conspiracy to bring down the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. So what is our “feminist prime minister” doing about this? The answer is: not much. Global Affairs Canada had actually told Dr. Hoodfar’s family to keep quiet about the incident and not to speak to media for fear of the Iranian authorities ire. But it was Dr. Hoodfar’s hospitalization last week and the non-action of the Trudeau government that forced them to speak out. The indictment, although absurd, is the hallmark of a paranoid totalitarian theocracy, and in the kangaroo courts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, such crimes can be punishable by death—requiring no due process of rights or witnesses or a jury of any kind. It is as arbitrary and precarious as the regime itself.
The last time I visited Iran was in 1999. While there, I had gone to the post office to fax a small letter and a copy of my Canadian passport to my parents. While at the post office, one of the clerks took my letter and began reading it. When I became irate and asked him what he thought he was doing, he laughed at me and replied, “I can read anything and everything that I want to. Anything and everything that goes in and out of this building,” he said. He was right. I never returned to Iran again.
This week marks the four-year anniversary of the closure of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. Some, including Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, are now arguing that if Canada had representatives on the ground in Tehran then perhaps something could be done for Dr. Hoodfar’s release. However, Canada had full diplomatic relations when Kazemi was tortured and murdered. We had full diplomatic relations when then ambassador to Iran, Phillip Mackinnon, was not even allowed to enter Kazemi’s hospital room. We had full diplomatic relations when Mackinnon was barred from entering the courtroom where Kazemi’s alleged murderer was tried and acquitted. When Canada objected to Mackinnon being prevented from sitting in on the trial, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman at the time, Hamid Reza Asefi, called Canada “immature” and said Kazemi’s death was an internal matter and none of Canada’s business because “Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian citizen.”
In no way did Mackinnon’s presence in Tehran have any effect on the illegal detainment, imprisonment, torture and murder of Kazemi. The Islamic Republic of Iran essentially flipped its thumb to Canadian citizenship and Canadian diplomacy (the thumb in Iran is equivalent to the middle finger in Canada).
Dr. Hoodfar was not born in Canada. She chose Canada. What is Canada prepared to do in order to bring her home? What is Canada prepared to do to show that citizenship to this country actually means something?
Perhaps Ottawa should issue a travel advisory to all of its Iranian dual national citizens warning them that they cannot guarantee their safety while they are in Iran and that their Canadian passport is meaningless and irrelevant. Better yet, maybe Ottawa should answer why it would even want to re-engage with a system where the rights of its Canadian citizens are systematically denied. Will Canada’s decision to lift sanctions against Iran and its consideration of rapprochement with the Islamic Republic come at the cost of Canadian citizens’ lives?
The judge presiding over Dr. Homa Hoodfar’s case, Abolqasem Salavati, is known in circles as the “hanging judge” and is the same judge who recently sentenced British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to five years in prison for unknown charges. Salavati was also responsible for the imprisonment and indictment of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
Dr. Hoodfar is not the only Canadian languishing in an Iranian prison. For the past eight years, Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian resident since 2004, has been imprisoned in Iran on trumped up charges of operating a pornographic website that was “operated by western influences and made to corrupt Iranian youth,” the indictment read.Malekpour had made an urgent trip to Iran to visit his dying father in 2008 when he was imprisoned. His sister, Maryam Malekpour lives in Edmonton and told me recently that despite all the letters she has written to Foreign Affairs Minister Dion, their response continues to be that they cannot help her brother because he is not a Canadian citizen.
But Homa Hoodfar is a citizen of Canada, and any consideration of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran must include both her and Malekpour’s immediate release from prison and safe return to Canada.
Our self-proclaimed feminist prime minister and his gender equal cabinet need to start taking to task governments that do not keep in step with our supposed feminist ideals and that includes Ottawa’s current tango with Tehran. Dr. Hoodfar has written extensively on how the rights of women are sacrificed as they bargain with fundamentalismand she knows very well that feminism is not just theory but is most effective when practiced. It is high time Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada begin to practice what he so well preaches.