Saving Hamid Ghassemi-Shall from Execution
by Gloria Nafziger
Campaigner for human rights of refugees and migrants
Antonella Mega (centre) and members of Amnesty’s Iran Action Circle in Toronto call for the freedom of Antonella’s husband, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a Canadian on death row in Iran.
Antonella Mega is fighting to stop her husband's execution in Iran and bring about his safe return to Canada
Antonella never expected that a tragedy in her life would bring her to the doorstep of Amnesty International.
In the first year following her husband Hamid Ghassemi-Shall's arrest, detention and trial in Iran she believed that justice would prevail for a man she knew to be innocent of all charges. She maintained this belief until Hamid was sentenced to death. But at that point she knew that she must reach out to anyone who would listen, and be a voice for Hamid in her efforts to bring him home to Canada safely.
Hamid's nightmare began in May 2008 when he left his home in Toronto and flew to Tehran to visit his elderly, sick mother. Soon after arriving in Iran, he was arrested. His detention followed that of his older brother, Alborz. Both brothers were held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for the next 18 months.
The brothers were sentenced to death in December 2008 following an unfair trial.
The conviction appears to have been based on an alleged email exchange that the Iranian authorities said was proof the brothers were involved in espionage and cooperating with a banned opposition group. Hamid maintains that he never sent any such email message. Evidence obtained by his lawyer reportedly confirms that to be the case.
Hamid has told Antonella that while in Evin Prison, and before he had a lawyer, he was under extreme pressure to confess. Confessions made under torture are often accepted as evidence in Iranian courts. In January 2010, the Iranian authorities reported that Alborz died in prison from stomach cancer. Antonella later received information from a post mortem that there was also evidence of head trauma.
Antonella Mega speaking at the Cities for Life anti-death-penalty event in Toronto on November 30, 2012.
Antonella first contacted Amnesty International in December 2009. Amnesty then began a process of verifying the details of Hamid's case and agreeing on a strategy that could help him and not put him further at risk. In May 2010, Antonella made the very difficult decision to make Hamid's case public. She gave numerous interviews and Hamid's story began to get national and international coverage. In October 2010, Antonella travelled to New York and stood in front of the UN General Assembly pleading for Hamid's safety and sharing his story with anyone who would listen.
Antonella's efforts to save Hamid's life endorsed by Canada's House of Commons
In January 2011, Canada publicly expressed concern for Hamid and encouraged the Iranian authorities to show mercy and compassion. Antonella's efforts have yielded many positive results. In May 2012, the Canadian House of Commons endorsed an urgent appeal to the Government of Iran to grant clemency to Hamid. Amnesty members across Canada have participated in actions calling on the government of Canada not to give up on Hamid, and calling on the Iranian authorities to spare him from execution.
More than 15,000 supporters have signed a petition to stop the execution of Hamid. Thousands of letters and postcards have been sent to the Iranian authorities. Antonella has received thousands of solidarity messages, and hundreds of these have been sent to Hamid in Evin prison.
In September 2012, Canada ended diplomatic relations with Iran, but the pleas to Canada for continued diplomatic interventions in Hamid's case have not stopped. Antonella is asking the public to continue to petition Canadian government officials to intervene through all channels available to save Hamid and bring him home.
Hamid is alive today thanks to your effort
Hamid remains alive today, almost certainly because of the international attention his case has received. He is not home yet, and the death penalty still looms. Antonella has not given up in her efforts to save Hamid, and neither has Amnesty International.
- Gloria Nafziher
Photo credit: Antonella with sign @ Bahare Khodabande; Antonella at event @ Florin Zamberescu
Originally published in Activist, Amnesty International's magazine for member in Canada. Become a member today