Ottawa ‘concerned’ about health of Canadian arrested in Iran
Robert Fife - OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jun. 09, 2016 8:09PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Jun. 09, 2016 8:10PM EDT
The Trudeau government says it is unsure why Iran arrested and imprisoned a Canadian-Iranian professor, even as Iran’s Justice Minister suggested it is linked to Canada’s refusal to extradite another dual citizen accused of money-laundering.
The government says it’s doing everything possible to free Concordia University anthropology professor Homa Hoodfar, who was in Iran studying gender and Islam when she was initially detained in March, released and then rearrested and jailed last week.
“It’s very urgent. We are very concerned about Dr. Hoodfar and we want to do everything we can to get her out of there as quickly as possible,” Omar Alghabra, the parliamentary secretary for consular affairs told reporters in Ottawa. “We are trying to understand what happened.”
Dr. Hoodfar’s family said the 65-year-old professor, who also holds an Irish passport, had suffered a stroke in the past and was feeling under psychological pressure from interrogations by Iran’s secret service.
“She is quite ill. A rare neurological disease,” according to Kaveh Ehsani, a friend and professor at DePaul University in Chicago. “We haven’t been able to get her medication for her. She hasn’t seen a doctor. We’re quite worried about the overall situation.”
It appears Iran is using Dr. Hoodfar as leverage to get its hands on a long sought after Iranian-Canadian banker now living in Toronto. Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi told reporters Wednesday in Tehran that Canada has rejected repeated requests to hand over Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former chief of the Melli Bank of Iran.
Mr. Khavari, who is also a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, fled Iran to Toronto in September of 2011 as prosecutors in Tehran sough to question him in connection with a $2.6-billion embezzlement and money-laundering scandal.
“Unfortunately, although Canada is a member of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), it only speaks in words, doesn’t show necessary co-operation, is not committed and has not rendered any co-operation (on Khavari’s case) yet,” the Farsi news agency quoted Mr. Pourmohammadi as saying.
In September, Nasser Seraj, the head of Iran’s General Inspectorate Organization, complained that Canada and other Western countries were benefiting from illegal money laundering.
“People like Khavari – a main culprit in the $2.6-billion bank scam in Iran – should be handed over to Iran and the cash that they have taken out of the country should also be returned,” Mr. Seraj said.
Mr. Alghabra, the consular affairs official, would not discuss Iran’s request for Mr. Khavari and whether Dr. Hoodfar is being used as a bargaining chip.
“We have privacy concerns so I can’t comment on the details of the cases but I don’t know why they are linking the two and I find it strange,” he said. “We don’t have a solid confirmation of why they are doing that.”
A senior Canadian official said the imprisonment of Dr. Hoodfar has complicated behind-the-scenes Canadian efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Tehran that were severed by the former Conservative government in 2012.
Canada lifted economic sanctions against Iran in February and indicated it would like to reopen the Canadian embassy in Tehran.
Mr. Alghabra was coy when asked if the Iranians have been told that Dr. Hoodfar’s arrest could jeopardize the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“We don’t want to right now risk the chance of getting her out as quickly as possible and have it depend on the negotiations with the Iranians,” he said. “But obviously they know we are very interested in Dr. Hoodfar’s case and I am sure they are watching the [interest] this is receiving by parliamentarians, by the government, by the media and we know they will pay attention and that she will be released very soon.”
Mr. Alghabra said a further complication in efforts to win Dr. Hoodfar’s release from the notorious Evin prison, where Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi was tortured and killed in 2003, is the fact that there is no Canadian embassy in Tehran. Canada has to rely on friendly countries with embassies in Iran to negotiate with the Iranians. He declined to say which embassies where acting on Canada’s behalf.
Dr. Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, said the family is baffled at the arrest of her aunt who has never been involved in any political activities. Her lawyers have not been given access, either.
“We are all very concerned about her. We are all very worried about her,” Ms. Ghahremani said. “The fact that we have absolutely no information or access to her in this detention is very worrisome. At the very least, we’d hope her lawyer would have access to her and understand what is going with her file and see what the charges are and help her as her lawyer. We are just very exhausted and frustrated because we can’t understand why she would be in these circumstances.”
Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Tony Clement said the imprisonment of Dr. Hoodfar demonstrates the folly of the Trudeau government’s policy of re-engagement with the Iranian regime.
“The professor was arrested and incarcerated after the new Liberal government unveiled its new sunny ways policy to lift sanctions against Iran and announced dialogue with Iran and said it would have a new relationship with Iran and then they arrest one of our citizens,” Mr. Clement said. “That still didn’t save this woman from being arrested and incarcerated.”
Several dual nationals, including people with French, British and U.S. passports, have been arrested in Iran over alleged security-related issues. Iran refuses to recognize dual nationality.