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Tortured & Imprisoned, Students seek safety in Canada

Thailand will complete the repatriation of more than 5,000 Hmong ethnic minority refugees to neighbouring Laos by the end of the year. -- PHOTO: AP
Vancouver, BC -- March 30TH 2009 -- Nazanin Afshin-Jam, International Human Rights Activist and former Miss Canada, is very pleased to announce that through cooperation and support from the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney, Azita and Ahmad Reza Shafaghat after years of imprisonment, torture and persecution, will be arriving at Vancouver International airport on Tuesday March 31st.

They were arrested during a student demonstration in 1999 where Azita was caught wearing a cross necklace and Ahmad Reza had a small bible. As a direct result of religious persecution by the Islamic Republic of Iran, they suffered severe physical and emotional torture. After five months in prison, they were conditionally released.

Fearing for their life, they lived in hiding for over six years in Iran so that they could practice their Christian faith underground. In Iran, execution is one the punishments under the apostasy law for those who convert from Islam to another religion.

Ahmad Reza and Azita finally escaped Iran through the mountains in Kurdistan to Iraq, on to Turkey in the hopes of reuniting with Azita’s parents and sister in Greece. While traveling to Greece by boat in the middle of the night with seven other refugees, they were intercepted by Greek authorities who beat them, detained them for days without food and water, ignored their pleas for asylum and dumped them back in Turkey.

“I objected the police officer beating my wife and told him that I would inform INTERPOL about the incident. He pulled out my hair instead and said “show this to INERPOL too” said Ahmad Reza. After arriving in Turkey without proper immigration papers the couple were imprisoned for over 9 months in various prisons. Ahmad Reza had been sleeping on the bare floor for so long that he had developed severe kidney and lung problems and Azita had to be admitted to hospital several times for serious medical complications.

“When the story came to my attention over two years ago from their friend Mohammad Reza Pardisan in London, they had already suffered so much just so they could practice their Christian faith in freedom” said Nazanin. "When I was invited to testify before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights in Canadian Parliament in March 2007, I spoke about their persecution and kept up the pressure and advocacy ever since. The Minister of Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, who is now also serving as the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, was very well informed about human rights violations in Iran. He said if there was anything he could do to help Azita, Ahmad Reza and others like them, he would do his best. Minister Kenney definitely kept his word.”

Ahmad Reza and Azita Shafaghat have faced many more challenges after they were granted refugee status by UNHCR and relocated to the small Turkish city of Chankri until a host country would grant them asylum. Two years later, when Finland denied their application for asylum, Canada stepped up to the plate. Before making their way to Istanbul airport on their way to their new home in Vancouver, Azita told Nazanin “We are so thankful to you Nazanin, Mohammad Reza Pardisan, Jason Kenney and the gracious support of the Canadian Government for giving us the chance to live in freedom for the first time in our lives and allowing us to pray to God without having to look over our shoulder to face torture, prison and death. We wish for the separation between religion and state in Iran and for the freedom of all prisoners of conscious”.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam is a human rights activist, singer/songwriter and co-founder and President of Stop Child Executions organization www.stopchildexecutions.com www.nazanin.ca info@nazanin.ca

For Further information or an interview with Nazanin Afshin-Jam please contact publicity@internationalartsmanagement.com

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