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Ottawa ignores its obligations as Canadian professor languishes in Tehran prison

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Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) adds its voice to human rights organizations, academic associations and concerned citizens across the country in calling for the Canadian government to immediately petition Iran for the safety and release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, Canadian-Iranian professor of social anthropology at Concordia University.

After travelling to Iran in February 2016 to visit family and conduct historical research, Professor Hoodfar was prohibited from leaving the country and subjected to repeated grueling interrogations by Iranian authorities, all without a lawyer. This harassment culminated in the professor's arrest on June 6 and incarceration in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. She has since been indicted on unknown charges, although Tehran's public prosecutor revealed she was being investigated for "dabbling in feminism and security matters."

Over the past three months, Professor Hoodfar's rights have been systematically disregarded, if not intentionally violated, by Iranian authorities in numerous ways, including:

          It is clear that Iranian authorities are attempting to isolate Professor Hoodfar in order to provoke a false confession. Any one of the above horrendous actions should warrant the Canadian government’s condemnation and as much intervention as possible. Although Canada cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, which no doubt adds to the challenge in advocating on Professor Hoodfar's case, the government must use any and all leverage at its disposal to secure her release.

          For instance, in February 2016, Minister Dion lifted virtually all sanctions against Iran and in June announced the government has begun to renew diplomatic ties with Tehran. These improving relations must be contingent on Iran's respect for Canada's citizens, regardless of whether they hold dual citizenship.

          Professor Hoodfar's case also represents an opportunity for the Canadian government to demonstrate its commitment to protecting its citizens detained abroad, an obligation that has been questioned in the recent past by previously imprisoned Canadians such as journalist and activist Mohamed Fahmy. Indeed, the Fahmy Foundation and Amnesty International have developed a Protection Charter that provides the government stronger and reformed mechanisms for protecting Canadians from serious human rights violations in other countries. CJFE urges the government to act in accordance with this Charter, which has been endorsed by 16 civil society organizations, 16 former detainees and relatives of current detainees, and 16 lawyers and former diplomats.

          The Canadian government must also heed the outcry of the tens of thousands of Canadians who have denounced Professor Hoodfar's arrest and mistreatment, called on Iran to drop all charges and release her, and implored Canada to intervene. The voices raised in unity and solidarity with Professor Hoodfar include:

              This is an overwhelming show of support and advocacy. It is clear that Professor Hoodfar's imprisonment is profoundly disturbing and should concern us all. As Dr. Charles Taylor, professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University, wrote in a special editorial to The Globe and Mail: Professor Hoodfar is neither activist nor militant. She is an internationally respected scholar whose rigorous and unbiased research has documented the daily lives of women in Middle Eastern society for more than two decades. If Professor Hoodfar’s arbitrary imprisonment is allowed to stand, it has the potential to seriously threaten academic freedom and the pursuit of unbiased research across the entire globe.

              "This is bad enough in any field. But it is particularly threatening in an area of public debate that is so inflamed with passions, and dominated by caricatured stereotypes," stated Dr. Taylor. "We urgently need more clear-headed and fact-based knowledge on issues relating to Muslim contexts, where the fires of prejudice-driven and hate-filled conflict are being stoked, threatening to expand and engulf us all."

              CJFE recognizes that Global Affairs has indicated it is working on Professor Hoodfar's case and encourages the Ministry to provide as many updates as possible about its efforts, without jeopardizing any potential progress. CJFE also invites Minister Dion's office to collaborate in any way possible with Canada's civil society in acting for Professor Hoodfar's release. It is clear that we are all committed to protecting Professor Hoodfar -- and we must work together to succeed.

              Professor Hoodfar does not deserve the persecution she is being subjected to, and the Canadian government must help bring an end to it. Freedom of expression, freedom of association and academic freedom are all at stake. To end, Iran must immediately and unconditionally release Professor Hoodfar -- Canadian-Iranian citizen, researcher and prisoner of conscience.

              Add your voice to the tens of thousands of Canadians calling for the release of Professor Hoodfar. Sign Amnesty International’s e-letter or the Avaaz petition today.

              This letter has been delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mr. Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs. A modified letter has also been sent to The Honourable Dr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and His Excellency Gholam Ali Khoshroo, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.

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