Remembering a massacre in Iran

MPs vote on a motion to condemn the massacre of 5,000 Iranian political prisoners

This afternoon in the House of Commons, MPs will vote on a motion to condemn the massacre of some 5,000 political prisoners by the Iranian government in the summer of 1988 as a crime against humanity, to honour the memory of the victims, and to establish September 1 as a day of solidarity with political prisoners in Iran.

The motion, which is expected to receive unanimous consent, is the fruit of a campaign by a loosely affiliated group of Iranian Canadians — including Toronto lawyer and human rights activist Kaveh Shahrooz, and journalist Sima Sahar Zerehi.

“At the moment it’s mostly symbolic. It counters the Iranian 25-year-effort to deny this ever happened,” says Shahrooz, whose uncle was among those murdered.

But it’s not an entirely symbolic measure, he says. “What happened 25 years ago informs our understanding of what’s happening in Iran today. It’s the same culture of impunity.”

Sahar Zerehi hopes that holding Iran accountable for the massacre of 1988 will help shift the dialogue on Iran from one that is often limited to the threat Iran presents to the outside world to one that includes a discussion of the abuses Iran continues to visit on its citizens. “There has been a lack of focus on human rights violations,” she says. “The greatest threat that Iran presents is to its own people.”

Mobilizing support for the campaign among Iranians in Canada had its challenges, says Shahrooz. Some worried that calling attention to a decades-old massacre might distract from ongoing oppression in Iran. Others feared the massacre might be used to support the case for military action against Iran.

Victims of the massacre came from a variety of backgrounds, from liberals to leftists to members of the People’s Mujahedin — which Canada until recently considered a terrorist organization. The campaign needed to gather support from people who don’t often work together. But it did. The campaign itself is non-partisan and unaffiliated with any political organization.

Partly to counter the notion that this campaign is part of a Conservative or right-wing agenda, those involved worked first with the NDP and especially Ottawa MP Paul Dewar. Shahrooz and Sahar Zerehi say they received strong support from all parties, and no one involved tried to politicize the issue.

“It demonstrates the revulsion of the entire Canadian political spectrum,” says Shahrooz.

Here is a link to the campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have released a statement.