Wife fears for Canadian on death row in Iran

The wife of a Canadian on death row in Iran says she spoke with her husband on Sunday, as he waits to learn his fate and the Canadian government pleads for his release.

'World will be watching,' Harper says

The wife of a Canadian on death row in Iran says she spoke with her husband on Sunday, as he waits to learn his fate and the Canadian government pleads for his release.

Antonella Mega has been fighting since 2008 to free her husband, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall.

"He was in tears," Mega told CBC News on Monday. She said he's been told that his execution may be coming soon.

The Iranian-born Ghassemi-Shall, 43, emigrated to Canada after Iran's 1979 revolution, and most recently lived in Toronto. 

He was arrested four years ago while visiting family, and was later charged with espionage. He was sentenced to death in 2009.

Mega said her husband has been told by a judge that he is waiting for instructions from a prosecutor. "And it seems that the prosecutor of Tehran is the person who controls Hamid's life," she said.

He is awaiting execution in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where another Canadian — photojournalist Zahra Kazemi of Montreal — was beaten, raped and killed in 2003.

Mega said her husband has spent 19 months in solitary confinement and has been beaten.

"He's OK, from the reports I hear, from his sister who visits him," she said. "We're terribly worried. We know that incarceration, at the best of times, is not a good place for anyone's health. And we're just very concerned. I'm just beside myself."

'Whole world will be watching,' Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked Monday in Chile what steps the government can take to save Ghassemi-Shall's life.

"Canadian government officials have been working at all levels for some time to urge fair judicial process and clemency in this case and we're working with our international partners, and I think our view is known and the government of Iran should know, the whole world will be watching and they will cast judgment if terrible and inappropriate things are done in this case."

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke out on behalf of Ghassemi-Shall on Sunday, calling for him to be released on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. 

The department said it has reached out to "like-minded" countries who have ambassadors in Iran to lobby on his behalf, and that former Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon got involved in the case in 2010.

Amnesty International has also been involved, recently writing an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to personally intervene. 

Mega said the Iranian authorities have an "opportunity" to do the right thing.

She said Ghassemi-Shall is not a spy. "Hamid doesn't understand how this could actually happen, but it seems that the level of sensitivity in Iran towards people who live in the West is increased."

Another Canadian resident, web programmer Saeed Malekpour of Richmond Hill, Ont., is also on death row in Evin prison. Malekpour, who was born in Iran, is charged with setting up a website that was used to post pornography. He maintains his innocence and says he was tortured into confessing to crimes against Islam.

Canada had a long-standing policy of seeking clemency for its citizens on death row in foreign lands, until the Conservatives revoked it in 2007 in the case of Ronald Smith, the only Canadian on death row in the United States. But that was a case of respecting the judicial system in a "democratic country that supports the rule of law," the government said at the time.

Mega spoke throughout the interview in calm, even tones; she said she has no choice.

"If I'm not calm, I will not be able to represent Hamid," she said. "Inside myself, there's a totally different picture."

With files from The Canadian Press