Wednesday January 10, 2018

Canada should work to arrest Iranian official hospitalized in Germany, says lawyer

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi at a conference in Tehran, Iran on April 2, 2009.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi at a conference in Tehran, Iran on April 2, 2009. (Vahid Salemi/The Associated Press)

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A powerful Iranian political figure is in Germany for medical treatment — and human rights activists are say this is Canada's opportunity to bring him to justice.

The Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi was Iran's Chief Justice from 1999 to 2009.

More than 2,000 people are known to have died in Iranian custody under his watch, including Canadian-Iranian Zahra Kazemi, who was tortured and killed in Evin prison in 2003.

The ayatollah is already facing a political complaint from German politician Volker Beck, a former Green Party MP.

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Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist, was tortured and killed in Evin prison in 2003. ((CBC))

Canadian human rights lawyer Payam Akhavan is urging Canada to step in too.

"I think that Canada should be requesting the German authorities to detain Mr Shahroudi," Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor, tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"And we should be sending some Canadian officials to Hanover, Germany to question him, because he knows exactly what happened with the murder of Zahra Kazemi at the hands of his direct subordinate… I think the Canadian government has a duty to pursue this matter."

'Under international law, someone such as Mr Shahroudi bears responsibility for what amounts to crimes against humanity' - Payam Akhavan

Akhavan has been working with Iranian NGOs putting together evidence against Ayatollah Shahroudi.

"There has been a widespread systematic policy of serious human rights abuse under his watch," says Akhavan. "Under international law, someone such as Mr Shahroudi bears responsibility for what amounts to crimes against humanity."

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A vigil for Zahra Kazemi, who died while under arrest in Tehran in 2003. Her family are still seeking justice. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Like Canada, Germany has universal jurisdiction crimes. This means charges can be pressed no matter where the crimes were committed — and crimes against humanity fall into that category.

Akhavan also hopes this situation could send a wider message to those accused of crimes against humanity in their own countries.

"Part of the effort to bring such perpetrators to justice is to send a message to them that they're not safe if they leave their country in which they hold power, that they will be pursued," says Akhavan.

He hopes the Canadian government will pursue Ayatollah Shahroudi. The Current contacted Global Affairs Canada — they said they were not ready to comment on this case yet.

"It would be very unfortunate and it would send the wrong signals if the Canadian government doesn't act," says Akhavan. "It would send a signal that we really don't care about the brutal rape, torture and murder of a Canadian citizen."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and John Chipman