Two Iranian-Canadians on death row in Iran caught in country’s murky justice system

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Americans are protesting the recent death sentence handed down by an Iranian court against former U.S. marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati as an alleged CIA spy, but lost in that news was word an Iranian-Canadian's suspended death sentence was reinstated this week.

Saeed Malekpour has permanent resident status in Canada but Iran revoked last summer's suspension of his death sentence after reviewing his case. The Toronto Star reports his lawyers are appealing to Iran's Supreme Court but are not being allowed to plead his case or present new evidence.

Meanwhile, Canadian citizen Hamid Ghassemi-Shall also remains on death row over what his supporters say are politically motivated charges.

Malekpour, a 35-year-old Iranian-born engineer who lived in Richmond Hill, Ont., was charged with "insulting and desecrating Islam" by designing websites that had pornographic content, the Star reported.

He was arrested after going back to Iran in 2008 to visit his ailing father. It was alleged that a program he designed for a client was used to post pornographic images, which Malekpour said happened without his knowledge.

He was sentenced to death by the Tehran Revolutionary Court after what he said in a letter was a torture-induced confession.

The Supreme Court overturned the sentence but later found "discrepancies" in his case and sent it back for review.

"When the case was being reviewed, technically they had to send it to another court," Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a Toronto-based human rights activist, told the Star. "Instead they sent it back to the same one, which only confirmed the sentence."

Human rights activists say that under the current heated climate of Iran's relations with the rest of the world, as well as dissent within the country, the regime is directing its anger at suspected critics who use the Internet.

It's estimated 600 people were executed last year and Amnesty International says another 39 may have been put to death already this year.

Toronto shoe salesman Ghassemi-Shall has been on death row for almost three years on what supporters say are bogus espionage charges.

"Iran has repeatedly refused Canada's requests to allow us to visit Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and provide consular assistance to him," said John Babcock, spokesman for Diane Ablonczy, minister responsible for consular affairs. "We continue to press Iranian authorities for consular access for Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, including seeking clemency."

Iran's judicial system is seen as largely opaque by outsiders. The government considers expatriates still to be its citizens and does not recognize their right to have help from consular officials.

The most infamous case involving a Canadian was the 2003 death of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photo journalist who died in custody after being arrested taking pictures of a protest outside a prison.

Officials claimed she had a stroke while being interrogated but later conceded she'd died as a result of a beating. An Iranian security officer was charged with "quasi-intentional murder" but acquitted after a court ruled Kazemi's death was "accidental."