The first political prisoner campaign I got involved in after Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released on September 21, 2011, was the Free Saeed Malekpour campaign.
Saeed is a 36 year old Canadian permanent resident, who was arrested in Iran in October 2008, a few days after he had arrived from Canada to visit his ill father. Saeed's father died from a brain tumour shortly after Saeed was imprisoned.
Saeed was sentenced to death on October 2010. The only evidence used to condemn Saeed to death are false confessions he gave two years ago while subjected to physical and psychological torture. Iran's Supreme Court subsequently repealed his death sentence due to discrepancies in his case file. The Supreme Court mandated the Revolutionary Court to conduct a full judicial review into the discrepancies. Despite that ruling, the court reinstated Saeed's death sentence in November 2011, and the Supreme Court upheld it.
According to Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's interim Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa:
"By confirming Saeed Malekpour's death sentence after an unfair trial, the Iranian authorities are sending a message to Iranians not to freely express their views, or even to help others to do so, including on the internet."
I learned of the renewed urgency of Saeed's case from Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, based on her experience of being arrested in Iran at age 16, and imprisoned for two years. I met her at a moving talk she gave in Toronto about "living through trauma, and the power of telling one's story."
I bought her first book during the imprisonment of Josh, Shane and Sarah, but could not bring myself to read it. I was traumatized enough knowing that Saeed was being held hostage in Evin prison that I feared what knowing the details of his imprisonment would do to me. I feared being in so much pain that I would be unable to fight for his freedom.
It was very healing for me to feel such an instant connection with Marina because of our overlapping experiences, and to hear her great joy about the final freedom for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for them through our intense pain. She urged me to get involved in the campaigns of Canadian citizens, and permanent residents on death row in Iran. As a Canadian citizen myself, speaking out for fellow Canadians felt like a necessary next step.
Marina connected me with Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a human rights activist who coordinates the campaign to free Saeed. Maryam and I also connected very easily through our overlapping experiences and shared passion for justice. She too was compelled to fight for Saeed as a fellow Canadian. She told me that she was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from my experience with the Free the Hikers campaign. It was heartwarming for me to hear that something constructive could come from such a traumatic time for me. It was even more heartwarming for me to hear her say,
"The release of Sarah, Shane, and Josh from Evin gave me hope that we could do the same for Saeed, and the hundreds of others unlawfully imprisoned in Iran."
Soon after I started sharing news about Saeed's case on my online platforms, I received a joint invitation from Maryam and the International Centre for Human Rights in Iran (ICHR) to speak at a rally for Saeed outside the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa.
When I asked Ardeshir Zarezadeh, Executive Director of ICHR, to explain what compels him to fight for Saeed, he cited the false accusations and grave injustices against Saeed; along with his grossly unfair trial, and false confessions made under torture. It was clear that he has grown accustomed to defending Saeed.
I sensed that he was driven by something much more personal, as so many in the Iranian diaspora are. I asked if he was comfortable sharing his personal motivations. He told me that he knew what being imprisoned in Iran felt like. He was arrested 12 times and spent two years in solitary confinement there.
"I was in jail and I know how hard it is staying in solitary confinement, and being tortured for false confession. When a prisoner gets tortured while in a cell without any connection [to the outside world], it's the end of their world."
I fought with every cell in my body to ensure that Josh, Shane and Sarah knew they were not alone and I am compelled to do the same for Saeed. As I said in my statement outside the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa,
"Like Josh, Shane and Sarah, Saeed needs us to be the voice that is being stolen from him. He needs us to fight for the human rights he is being denied. He needs us to fight for his life. The life that will be taken from him if we are silent."
Please add your voice to mine. Please contact the Prime Minister of Canada and ask him to intervene in Saeed Malekpour's case. Join Farahway Global on Facebook and Twitter for further calls for action, and the latest updates regarding his case.
Follow Farah Mawani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@farah_way