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Iran nuclear deal: Canadian journalist tortured by Iran urges closer ties

Iranian-Canadian Maziar Bahari was interrogated and tortured by Iranian officials after of being accused of being a spy. Yet he tells CBC's Nahlah Ayed that he is still strongly supportive of the nuclear deal.

Canada must rethink arms-length relationship with Iran, says Bahari, who supports nuclear deal

Iranian-Canadian journalist who has suffered at the hands of the regime believes talking with Iran is better than the alternative 2:19

For Maziar Bahari, Iran was once reduced to a solitary cell in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Despite his lingering distrust for the country's leaders, he says it's time for Canada to reassess its relations with Iran in the wake of this week's nuclear deal.

The Iranian-Canadian journalist was detained in 2009 while covering the protests that erupted after the divisive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared president for a second term.

Bahari was accused, among other things, of being a spy. He was interrogated and tortured. Then he was inexplicably released on bail after 118 harrowing days, and convicted in absentia after he fled the country.

World powers agreed with Iran this week on a deal to lift sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear program, but Bahari says Iran's rulers cannot be trusted.

Yet, citing his love for Iran, he is still strongly supportive of the deal.

'Alternative would be another war'

"You have to think about the alternative, the alternative would be another war in the Middle East," he said in an interview with CBC News.

Bahari, whose ordeal was depicted in the film Rosewater, directed by comedian Jon Stewart, also believes it's time for Canada to rethink its relationship with Iran.

Canada closed its embassy in Tehran in 2012, quietly pulling all its staff out of the city, citing fear for their safety among a number of reasons. Relations have been severed ever since.

"I think the Canadian embassy in Tehran should be open as soon as possible," he said in an interview in London. "The main victims of the lack of … diplomatic relationship between Iran and Canada are innocent Iranian Canadian citizens, who love Canada and who love Iran at the same time.

"If Canada had an embassy in Tehran it could make much wiser decisions in terms of its relations with Tehran than (it can) now."

Canada out of step

Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist whose ordeal in Iran was depicted in the film Rosewater, says it's time for Canada to reassess its relationship with Iran. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)
Ottawa has been a strong critic of Iran since, as vocal — and sometimes more so — than Iran's arch nemesis, Israel.

With international preparations now being made to eventually lift sanctions on Iran when it shows compliance with the nuclear deal, Canada is out of step with the world powers involved, including the U.S.

In a statement reacting to the nuclear deal announced Tuesday, Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson, said Canada "appreciated" the efforts of the countries involved, but that it would "continue to judge Iran by its actions not its words.

"Iran continues to be a significant threat to international peace and security owing to the regime's nuclear ambitions, its continuing support for terrorism, its repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, and its disregard for basic human rights."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna . Iran and six major world powers reached a deal July 14, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)
There is a long record that feeds the mistrust: The country routinely imprisons journalists and activists. Currently that includes two Canadian residents, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. His closed trial is underway in Tehran.

Bahari is leading an effort called Journalism is Not a Crime to help activists track and champion the cause of the many lesser-known journalists incarcerated in Iran. He says such cases speak to the brutality of the system.

World leaders were pushed to raise such cases with Iran as they negotiated in Vienna. Bahari is concerned that there may be an escalation in the number of cases now that the nuclear deal has been concluded.

In his comments Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the release of the detained, while pointing out that the deal struck with Iran was purely concerned with the question of nuclear capability, "period."

Satirist-turned-director Jon Stewart (left) made a film about Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (right). Rosewater tells the story of Bahari's assignment for Newsweek to cover the 2009 Iranian election, and his arrest and torture. (Sam Santos/Getty Images)
Similar questions about detainees came up again Wednesday when British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond announced the U.K. would re-open its embassy in Tehran by Christmas. He said Britain would continue to press Iran on its "poor human rights record."

The U.K. embassy was closed after it was overrun by a mob and ransacked in 2011.

There is no suggestion Canada planned to reconsider its own sanctions on Iran in tandem with other countries, nor consider reopening the embassy.

Nicholson's statement Tuesday said: "We will examine this deal further before taking any specific Canadian action."

Asked for an interview, a spokeswoman for Nicholson said the minister was unavailable today for comment.

About the Author

Nahlah Ayed

Foreign Correspondent

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's covered major world events and spent nearly a decade working in and covering conflicts across the Middle East. Earlier, Ayed was a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.

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