The following is a transcript of Nazanin Boniadi’s testimony before the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights. She discusses the situation of human rights defenders, journalists and media organizations in Iran.
This recording occurred on March 28, 2022. Please check against delivery.
By Nazanin Boniadi, April 6, 2022
Mr. Chair, members of the Committee, thank you. Given that the Islamic Republic is ranked among the worst globally with respect to various human rights indices, the utter absence of a free media, the looming JCPOA agreement, and the tragedies surrounding the downing of flight PS752, my focus today will be on my homeland, Iran.
Since the 1979 Revolution, the denial of fair trials and due process have been symptoms of the Iranian authorities’ disdain for the rule of law and those defending it, as well as tools for the monopolization of power and the persecution of those who challenge it.
So, sadly, it came as no surprise when security forces yet again unlawfully used lethal force and birdshot to crush mass protests over water shortages in Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces last year, killing at least 11 people and injuring scores more.
Nor should we be surprised that Iran is suffering from an epidemic of torture.
Amnesty International has documented that Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture, ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials.
Leaked surveillance footage from Tehran’s Evin prison in August 2021, showed prison guards beating, sexually harassing and otherwise torturing prisoners.
In the last year, several thousand men, women and children — including human rights defenders, protesters, bereaved relatives demanding accountability, lawyers, journalists, environmentalists, dissidents, artists, writers, teachers, dual and foreign nationals — have been interrogated and unfairly detained simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Hundreds remained wrongfully detained by the end of the year.
Hundreds of women human rights defenders remain unjustly imprisoned in Iran, including lengthy sentences for at least 6 women who peacefully campaigned against compulsory veiling.
In a brave act of civil disobedience, renowned rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who has spent the better part of the last 13 years behind bars for her peaceful advocacy, is resisting a prison summons she received on March 8th.
The authorities have banned independent political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations, censored media and jammed satellite television channels.
In January, the authorities added the messaging application Signal to the list of blocked social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The authorities imposed internet shutdowns during protests, hiding the scale of violations by security forces and preventing people from organizing.
The authorities continue to conceal the truth surrounding the January 2020 shooting down of Flight PS752 by the Revolutionary Guards, which killed 176 people. It is important that as Canadian legislators you recognize that the bereaved relatives of the victims seeking justice in Iran continue to face intimidation, harassment, arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment, and it is imperative that Canada, along with Ukraine, the UK, Sweden, and Afghanistan, continue to collectively pursue full transparency, accountability and justice.
After a 43 year case study on the Islamic Republic, and the rise to the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi — who has been a pillar of the oppressive state, implicated in crimes against humanity and whose leadership harkens back to 1980s Iran — it has become abundantly clear that a culture of impunity reigns supreme in the country and the system is impervious to reform.
We should remember that there is no avenue for justice through domestic channels in Iran, and Iranian victims of serious crimes committed by the Iranian authorities look to the international community to take meaningful action to ensure their rights. This is why Amnesty International and other NGOs have been urging member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to support the creation of an impartial mechanism to collect, analyze, consolidate and preserve evidence of the most serious crimes committed in Iran to facilitate future fair and independent criminal proceedings.
We also urge members states to renew the mandate of the Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.
It is encouraging that Canada has been a lead sponsor of a UN resolution for the protection and promotion of human rights in Iran since 2003, when dual Iranian-Canadian citizen and freelance photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was killed while in custody and her medical examiner later testified that she had sustained brutal torture and rape. The support and promotion of such resolutions is the very least the people of Iran expect from the free world.
For far too long, we have soft-pedaled human rights advocacy in our foreign policy. But human rights are intricately bound with respect for the rule of law and there can be no good governance in the long run without the rule of law. Good and law-abiding governance not only makes for better regional neighbors but also members of the international community. So it’s not just a moral imperative that we prioritize human rights in our foreign policy, it is to our advantage that we don’t allow it to be overshadowed by our geopolitical, economic and other interests.
Nazanin Boniadi is an actor and human rights advocate. She is an Ambassador for Amnesty International, and Honorary Board Member of Hostage Aid Worldwide, and a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.