Cotler, now head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, is calling for the sanctioning under Canada’s Magnitsky Act of major Iranian government officials and others responsible for widespread human rights violations.
Together with six MPs from all parties, Cotler released a report in Ottawa on Dec. 10 that names 19 individuals as being the “major architects of repression in Iran,” including government ministers, procurator generals, judges, and heads of prisons.
Cotler said that in 2018, arrests, imprisonment, torture, and execution of the leading civil society leaders of all sectors in Iran increased.
“One of the problems that we’ve had is that the international community did not speak up during the period of violations respecting human rights defenders, journalists, and the like in Saudi Arabia. That took us down the road to Kashoggi,” he said, referring to journalist and activist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by agents of the Saudi government and his body dismembered.
“I want to say that the Iranian officials whose violations are documented in this report make Kasoggii’s murder—as brutal and atrocious as it was—make it modest by comparison given the pervasive and persistent assault on human rights [in Iran].”
The report said that while President Hassan Rouhani has attempted to portray a new “moderate” Iran, rights violations have intensified under his watch, including a significant increase in the arrest of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers.
“Strikingly, Nasrin Sotoudeh, the iconic Iranian human rights lawyer and embodiment of the struggle for human rights in Iran, was re-arrested in June for defending peaceful protesters and has been languishing in Evin Prison since,” said the Wallenberg Centre report.
“Without the defense of human rights lawyers, all civil society leaders are vulnerable to further politically charged arrests.”
Under the Magnitsky Act, also known as the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the 19 Iranians could have sanctions placed on them that would include a ban on entering Canada and freezing any Canadian assets they might have.
“Indeed, the objectives of naming, shaming, and sanctioning specific human rights violators are indispensable to mobilizing a critical mass of global advocacy to address and redress human rights violations in Iran,” the report said.
Cotler also called for the release of Iranian Canadians currently being held in Iran, including Saeed Malekpour, who was imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2012 and is said to be in poor health.
With files from Lucy Zhou in Ottawa.