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Torture Survivors

    Torture: its invisible scars last a lifetime

    Beatings, water boarding, sexual assault, and death threats to family members are just a few of the many torture techniques used around the world. The end result is always the same. Torture permanently changes the lives of survivors, whose minds and bodies are forever marked with torture’s invisible and visible scars.

    Torture seeks to destroy a person’s dignity. The United Nations has condemned torture as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on their fellow human beings. Torture is a crime under international law. It is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances.

    And yet, torture continues to be practiced in over 2/3 of the world’s countries. Torture thrives behind closed doors when no one is watching and when no one is held to account for their actions.

    This exhibition features eight torture survivors who live in Canada. Some were tortured and others’ lives were forever changed by the torture of a close loved one. Half were Canadian citizens at the time of their torture.

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    All bear the in/visible scars of torture. But it has not broken their spirits. Their lived experience strengthened their resolve to take action in support of a torture-free world. Here is what they want to share with you.

    Here are their stories:

    OSIRIS LOPEZ-CHEVEZ

    José Eduardo Lopez was a freelance journalist and human rights activist in Honduras. He was detained, tortured and released by the Honduran military in 1981. On December 24, 1984 he was abducted by armed men and never seen again; he “disappeared.” In 1985, his wife Nora Melara-Lopez and her young family fled Honduras for Canada. The family has no information about what happened to José Eduardo until a 1993 report confirmed that he had been abducted by Honduran government security forces, tortured, executed and buried in a clandestine cemetery.
    The family, with the help of others, has given new meaning to José Eduardo’s life and disappearance.
     
    Within a few weeks of her arrival Nora became involved with Amnesty International, increasing awareness about human rights abuses and impunity in Honduras. In 1996, an Amnesty International group in Belgium with support from others, erected a monument in honour of José Eduardo and “the disappeared” around the world.
     
    The family has kept José’s memory alive by providing the José Eduardo Lopez Memorial Scholarship, an educational scholarship for disadvantaged members of the Latin American community.
    Osiris Lopez-Chevez says that her father "…strongly believed that education was the way out of poverty. If people are educated, they can't be exploited. We are trying to make sure our Latino youth get a chance." 
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    HAMID GHASSEMI SHALL 

    Hamid's nightmare began in May 2008 when he left his home in Toronto and flew to Iran to visit his elderly, sick mother. Soon after arriving he and his older brother were arrested on charges related to espionage and cooperating with a banned opposition group. Hamid was held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for 18 months. He was sentenced to death following an unfair trial in December 2008.
    During his time in prison, his wife in Canada, Antonella Mega, campaigned relentlessly on his behalf. Amnesty International campaigned alongside Antonella. Hamid was released from prison in September 2013 and allowed to return to his home in Canada.
    Since his release from prison Hamid has provided testimony regarding his experience to the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran. He has become a vocal supporter of the need to promote human rights in Iran and advocates for the release of prisoners who are wrongfully detained in Iranian prisons. 
    Hamid knows the importance of standing with those who remain behind bars. When he heard that Antonella and Amnesty International were fighting for his freedom it gave him the energy to fight back. He knows that speaking out for others can make the difference between life and death. He has called on Canada to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. He knows that torture occurs behind closed doors when no one is watching. 
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    MARINA NEMAT

    On January 15, 1982, at age 16, Marina Nemat was arrested and spent more than two years in Evin prison in Iran, where she was tortured and came very close to execution. Her “crime” was complaining that math and history lessons in her school had been replaced by Koran instruction and political propaganda.
    She was released from prison in 1984 and returned home to her family. She never spoke about her two years in prison. She married, had a child, and in 1990 left Iran with her husband and child, and moved to Canada. After arriving in Canada, Marina was pre-occupied with the life of a new immigrant; another child was born and she and her husband were busy establishing their home and careers in a new country. After 20 years, when nightmares and flashbacks continued to haunt her and interrupt her sleep, she began to look to her past and write about it. Her writing began as a therapeutic diary and became a mission to tell the story of Iran's past, in the hopes of helping its future. 
     
    Marina was not prepared to pretend that her two years of abuse in Evin prison never happened. She knew that she had to find a way to talk about what happened to her. Her memoir, Prisoner of Tehran was published in 2007.
     
    Marina Nemat has been a vocal advocate of human rights. She has received multiple awards for her work in support of human rights and speaks regularly at high schools, universities, and conferences around the world. She speaks passionately about human rights and calls on Canada to do everything possible to put an end to torture.
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    NASER AL RAAS

    Naser al Raas was seized by policeman as he was returning to Kuwait from Bahrain in 2011.  A visit to his family and fiancée in Bahrain resulted in his arrest and a month of torture for allegedly taking part in pro-democracy protests. Naser was placed in solitary confinement where he endured a continuous horror dream of electric shocks and beatings. He was denied the medicine he needed to treat a serious heart condition.
    His detention drew international attention. His supporters, including Amnesty International, used social media and online campaigns to call for his release. Naser was released, then re-arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for participating in peaceful protests. He was finally released in February 2012 and shortly after married his fiancée, Zainab Ahmed. 
    Naser returned to Canada yearning for justice and with a desire to hold to account those who had abused his human rights and the rights of countless others in Bahrain. He has become an outspoken anti-torture activist who never hesitates to tell his story and talk about how important it is for all Canadians, including Canadian authorities, to speak out and take action to Stop Torture around the world.
    “Thank you all for what you did for me. I wasn’t afraid because I knew you were fighting for me, looking after me all the way from Canada. Even when I was sleeping, I felt safe.”
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    MARTHA KUWEE KUMSA 

    Martha Kuwee Kumsa and her three young children arrived in Canada in 1991 as refugees. She had spent 10 years in an Ethiopian prison because of her work as a journalist and her support for the rights of the Oromo people. Martha knows what it means to be broken in body and spirit. She was brutally tortured. Many of her fellow prisoners were killed before her eyes or vanished without a trace or explanation. While imprisoned, Martha received letters which encouraged her to “hope against despair.” She taught herself French, and then taught it as well as biology, geography and math to prisoners and to the sons and daughters of prison administrators.
    The resilience and energy which allowed Martha to survive in prison, allowed her to survive in Canada. Today she is a published writer and poet who speaks around the world on the topic of human rights and freedom of expression. She has received multiple awards for her work and is an active member of human rights organisations including PEN Canada and Amnesty International. After arriving in Canada she returned to school and finished a PhD in social work. She is now a full professor teaching at Wilfrid Laurier University.
    Martha’s profile as a journalist and attention from the outside world helped to keep her alive, but not everyone is so lucky. Prison inspections would have provided some measure of protection to Martha and the other detainees. She calls on Canada to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. All prisoners have the right to be safe and free from torture and mistreatment.
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    NORA MELARA-LOPEZ

    José Eduardo Lopez was a freelance journalist and human rights activist in Honduras. He was detained, tortured and released by the Honduran military in 1981. On December 24, 1984 he was abducted by armed men and never seen again; he “disappeared.” In 1985, his wife Nora Melara-Lopez and her young family fled Honduras for Canada. The family has no information about what happened to José Eduardo until a 1993 report confirmed that he had been abducted by Honduran government security forces, tortured, executed and buried in a clandestine cemetery.
    The family, with the help of others, has given new meaning to José Eduardo’s life and disappearance.
    Within a few weeks of her arrival Nora became involved with Amnesty International, increasing awareness about human rights abuses and impunity in Honduras. In 1996, an Amnesty International group in Belgium with support from others, erected a monument in honour of José Eduardo and “the disappeared” around the world.
     
    The family has kept José’s memory alive by providing the José Eduardo Lopez Memorial Scholarship, an educational scholarship for disadvantaged members of the Latin American community. 
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    ROY SAMATHANAM

    Roy Samathanam, was arrested by the Sri Lankan Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in 2007 while visiting his family in Sri Lanka. He was accused of importing electronics in order to assist the armed opposition group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
     
    Roy was held for three years, during which time he learned what inhumanity looks like. He was threatened and tortured and continues to suffer from the physical and psychological effects. After his return to Canada he filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee accusing Sri Lanka of violations of his rights and asked the Committee to call on Sri Lanka to take criminal action against those responsible, and to provide him with compensation.
     
    He has appeared before Parliamentary Committees in Canada and UN committees, testifying about his experience and calling for an investigation in Sri Lanka for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
     
    Roy never hesitates when asked to speak out against torture. He calls on Canada to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. Canada can only call on other countries to respect human rights when it has signed this protocol which helps to identify and remedy the conditions that encourage and allow torture and ill-treatment to take place.
    “I am doing this for me and for others who have been tortured and are still detained in jails in Sri Lanka. I want those officials who tortured me to be tried in the court of law and face justice.”
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    ABDULLAH ALMALKI

    Abdullah Almalki is a Canadian engineer, who was imprisoned in May 2002 when he traveled to Syria to visit his grandmother. He was arrested after Canadian officials sent false information to the Syrian authorities alleging that he was a terrorist threat. Abdullah was imprisoned for 22 months and brutally tortured. In July 2004 he was acquitted of all charges and returned to Canada. To this day no one has been held to account for his detention and torture in Syria.
     
    Abdullah has relentlessly pursed justice and accountability for himself, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin—two other Canadians who were also tortured in Syria. He speaks frequently about torture and is an advocate against torture.
     
    Abdullah’s name was cleared by the Iacobucci inquiry. The inquiry found that Canadian officials were complicit in his torture in Syria. In 2009, the House of Commons passed a motion calling on the government to provide compensation and a formal apology to Abdullah, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin and to do everything necessary to correct misinformation about them that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad. The Canadian government has not responded.
     
    Abdullah continues to fight for an official apology and accountability. He knows that Canada must do everything in its power to ensure that no one is ever tortured again.
    Photo by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu

    You CAN Help Stop Torture

    Stand with these eight courageous activists and other torture survivors in Canada. Shine a light on torture, a violation which robs everyone involved of their humanity. Take action to prevent other people from being tortured.

    Join Amnesty International and call on governments around the world to put systems in place to prevent torture from taking place when people are detained by the police and held in detention.
     

    We are calling on Canada to be a leader in stopping torture.

    Canada has gone partway in banning torture by joining the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

    Now we need Canada to go all the way and join an additional treaty which calls for regular national and international inspections of detention centres to make sure torture isn’t taking place. This treaty is called the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. But there’s nothing optional about it. It’s a necessary tool to open prison doors and root out torture once and for all.

    Once Canada has joined this treaty, Canada is well placed to call on other countries around the world to Stop Torture.

    Don’t let other families experience the traumatic and lifelong impacts of torture. Prevent people in Canada and around the world from bearing torture’s in/visible scars. Take action today to Stop Torture.

    Join Nora, Osiris, Marina, Hamid, Roy and Martha. Call on Canada to help Stop Torture now