MP calls on government to act on behalf of detained journalist

By Emily Ask

Three months spent in an Iranian prison and Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari still hasn’t seen a lawyer. Aside from a few visits from his grandmother and one brief phone call to his pregnant wife, Bahari has been cut off from the outside world.

Newsweek correspondent Bahari was arrested June 21, along with several other journalists and bloggers, after the controversial Iranian elections. A week later, the Iranian press released a confession from Bahari, in which he admitted to biased reporting and said the Western media was responsible for the rallies protesting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s electoral victory.

CBC News reported that there is no way to independently confirm the statement. His wife, Paola Gourley, and Newsweek editor John Meacham have suggested his confession was forced.

“Some in the government of Iran would like to portray Bahari as a kind of subversive or even as a spy,” wrote Meachan in a Newsweek article. “He is neither. He is a journalist, a man who was doing his job, and doing it fairly and judiciously, when he was arrested. Maziar Bahari is an agent only of the truth as best he can see it.”

The Canadian government has faced challenges negotiating Bahari’s release because he was travelling on an Iranian passport and Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. Further, Iran has not released what the exact charges against Bahari are.

Ontario MP Dan McTeague is frustrated because he has offered important information regarding Bahari from unnamed sources, but the Department of Foreign Affairs is skeptical, McTeague told the Gauntlet.

“Frankly, the Department of Foreign Affairs has nothing,” he said.

“They’re basically taking the position that since they don’t really know, they’re not going to accept that anyone else just might.”

Foreign Affairs has stated that talks with Iran over Bahari have always been in the context of his employment with Newsweek.

“The more serious charges against him that need to be resolved are whether or not he was there in an official or unofficial capacity on behalf of the Canadian government,” said McTeague.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs says, ‘Well, we’ve already said that.’ Well, saying it and putting it in writing are two different things.”

McTeague stressed that an official correspondence, in the form of a “diplomatic note,” was needed.

“If we wait for the Iranians to determine whether he was or wasn’t, however they do so, he could be there for an indefinite period of time, and that, to me, is too long. He ought not to be there to begin with.”

McTeague cites his experience as parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs from 2003 to 2006 where he specialized in dealing with Canadians abroad.

“It’s important that the government takes up this challenge; I put out my statement three weeks ago. One would think they would have cobbled something together by now,” he said.

“I haven’t got time for political games, and Bahari hasn’t got time to spend incarcerated for something he didn’t do.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding Bahari on Sept. 16. Clinton promised to fully support Canada’s efforts.


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