Rejected refugee faces peril in Iran
The Vancouver Sun
Dec 31, 2004
Haleh Sahba, charged with speaking out against the state, needs Canada's help. So where is Judy Sgro?
For nearly a month, Haleh Sahba had to report to police every morning in Tehran to confirm she was still in Iran.
That she was free at all came at a high price. Her family, friends and relatives -- all of whom live in Canada -- put up four pieces of property in Iran, securing her freedom until her court date.
Haleh left Iran illegally four years ago to join her family. Once here, she applied for and was refused refugee status.
She is also charged with speaking out against the state of Iran and two undisclosed crimes -- undisclosed by her family for fear that the Iranian government will deal even more harshly with Sahba if they speak out.
In Iran, the penalties range from flogging to execution.
Last week, Haleh's father, Habib Sahba, along with three other men and a woman, signed affidavits, swearing that they would ensure Haleh appears in court when her case is heard Jan. 25. Since then Sahba and her father have left Tehran, where she didn't feel safe, and gone to another part of the country.
Since then, Sahba has also learned that all four of her closest university friends, who worked with her to organize rallies in support of greater freedoms and rights for women during the late 1990s, are in jail.
Until Dec. 6, Sahba reported every day not to police, but to work at a downtown Vancouver Starbucks where she was a shift supervisor and such a valuable employee that Starbucks has written to Immigration Minister Judy Sgro promising it is more than willing to give Sahba her job back.
That ended abruptly following an hour-long hearing in Federal Court when Madame Justice Judith Snider ruled that if Sahba were sent back to Iran she "would not suffer irreparable harm," since other failed refugee claimants had been returned without incident.
Snider said Sahba and her lawyer hadn't provided any evidence that she would be at risk as a failed refugee and, as a result, the immigration officer couldn't consider that.
The judge also called it implausible that Sahba's ex-husband and his brother, who is a senior member of the terrorist group Hezbollah, would be any danger to Sahba.
The next day, the 30-year-old divorced woman and former student activist boarded a plane accompanied by a Canadian immigration officer en route for Iran.
She was arrested on arrival. During her 26-hour detention, she was struck in the face and head twice when she refused to sign a statement denouncing Canada.
Sahba's sister, Laleh, who spoke to Haleh earlier this week, says Haleh is terrified. Laleh's father told her that Haleh wakes up screaming with fear in the middle of the night. During the daytime, Haleh and her father go everywhere together, believing they're safer that way.
Iran is a frightening place, especially for women. They can be arrested by religious police for such transgressions as wearing brightly coloured nail polish or even wearing brightly coloured sweaters.
The most recent horror brought to Western attention by Amnesty International was the November sentencing of Hajieh Esmailvand to death by stoning for having had an adulterous relationship. On Dec. 21, she was given a stay of execution, but there are still concerns that the rest of her sentence will be carried out. It includes five years in jail and 100 lashes.
Earlier this year, the son of Canadian Fatemeh Magd died after been flogged 80 times after being accused of corrupting his sisters, owning an illegal satellite dish and possessing medicines containing alcohol.
Mohsen Mofidi turned himself in to Iranian police in exchange for the release of his two sisters. The sisters were arrested by morality police at a party at their brother's apartment, beaten with chains during their detention and were later sentenced to 130 lashes for having boyfriends. The sisters came to Richmond before their sentences were carried out.
The irony in Sahba's case is that she would qualify as an immigrant. She speaks English, has a university education and 17 of her family -- all of them except a religious uncle who despises her because of her divorce -- live in Canada.
But Sahba, twice denied a visa to leave Iran, believed her only hope of joining her family was to leave illegally.
She paid thousands of dollars to a human trafficker who secured flights for her from Turkey to Malaysia to Germany and then to Canada, and eventually robbed her of both her real Iranian passport and a fake one.
She checked the refugee claimant box on the form when she arrived at Vancouver International Airport, setting in motion a process that makes it impossible to then apply as an immigrant.
Sahba's family cling to the hope that before her Tehran court date on Jan. 25, the immigration minister will issue a temporary- resident permit to Sahba.
That would be the documentation she needs to leave Iran and get on an airplane bound for Canada. It would also allow either a European country or the United States to intervene and provide her with even temporary sanctuary.
While even criminals don't seem to be deported from Canada these days, it appears that Sahba's "crime" is that she either knowingly tried to jump the immigration queue or she got a lot of bad advice from smugglers and lawyers about how to be a successful refugee.
Whichever it was, surely even Sgro should recognize that any further punishment the Iranian authorities mete out is likely to be totally out of proportion to Sahba's crime of wanting to be close to her family.
And it might be a small step toward Sgro putting the immigrant- stripper scandal behind her.
Friend's life in hands of Iranian government
Dec 24, 2004
Woman deported from Canada faces stoning or jail
An Iranian woman deported from Canada this month was charged, handcuffed and struck twice upon her arrival in Iran.
"She was detained as soon as she arrived and taken away in handcuffs," Del Press, a friend and advocate of the woman, Haleh Sahba, said yesterday.
"She was asked to sign a declaration condemning the Canadian government. It's standard fare for anybody arriving who is a failed refugee claimant. She refused and was struck twice."
Sahba had five charges laid against her and faces a sentence ranging from jail to being stoned to death, said Press.
Two charges relate to her leaving Iran illegally and one relates to her role as a women's-rights activist at the University of Tehran.
Press said the two other charges were unexpected and the Sahba family has asked her not to reveal what those charges are.
Sahba fled Iran in 2000, fearful her husband was going to kill her.
Sahba's parents and other family members live in Burnaby. Because Sahba arrived illegally she became a refugee claimant. Her claim was rejected, and she was deported Dec. 7.
Iranian authorities held Sahba for 26 hours then allowed her to leave after her father, who returned to Iran, paid bail. She must report to police every day at 10 a.m.
She will be tried in two weeks.
"The biggest issue is the lack of sensitivity to women from these countries," Press said. "Women even in Canada aren't very comfortable talking about physical abuse from husbands. In an Islamic culture that is fundamentally male, where men rule, they don't deal with issues of abuse at all.
"Her only chance of coming back to Canada is if the Iranian government drops some of the charges," allowing her to get a passport, Press said. "Then (immigration minister) Judy Sgro must allow her back in on a temporary resident's visa."
Bill Siksay, NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, and Paul Forseth, Conservative MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam, support Sahba. They claim her deportation is an abrogation of Canada's commitment to human rights.
MPs unite to protest woman's plight
Dan Hilbornstaff reporter.
Dec 18, 2004
MP Paul Forseth claims Haleh Sahba has already been roughed up in Iran
Two unlikely allies have joined forces to pressure the federal government to protect Haleh Sahba, an Iranian activist who had been living in Burnaby before being deported back into the hands of that country's revolutionary government earlier this month.
Bill Siksay, the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, and Paul Forseth, the Conservative MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam, have decried the Dec. 7 deportation as an abrogation of Canada's commitment to human rights.
"I think the government of Canada has made a terrible, terrible mistake in the Haleh Sahba case," said Siksay, "This woman is an activist who was criminally charged for these activities in Iran, and to deport her back is both outrageous and unconscionable.
"I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs is providing whatever support they can for her family. But it is difficult," he said. "She's been delivered into the hands of the Islamic revolutionary court, and I don't think there's a thing Canada can do now."
Forseth said he has received information that Sahba has already been mistreated since her Dec. 7 deportation.
"We wanted to make sure the minister realized what was happening," Forseth said. "Since she has arrived, we've learned that she was arrested, put in jail and smacked around a bit and heavily interrogated."
Sahba, 30, was a refugee claimant in Canada, where her parents, brother and sister legally immigrated six years ago. Most recently, they had been living in North Burnaby, and Sahba worked for Starbucks for the past three years. According to the Persian Journal website, her employer was supporting her refugee application.
Forseth said the case highlights the degree of turmoil in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration ever since it was revealed that Judy Sgro, the minister responsible, intervened on behalf of an exotic dancer who worked on her election campaign.
"I think the minister is swamped with a system that's broken," said Forseth. "The refugee removal risk assessment does not appear to be working, the thresholds are too stiff and there are no appeals."
Forseth noted that recent changes to the immigration act included improvements to the refugee appeal system. However, those changes have not been enacted into law, despite gaining approval from the Liberal side of the government.
"The system is, I use the word, dysfunctional. It cannot fulfil its mandate. It does not communicate with its clients and it cannot deliver service in a timely manner. And there's something fundamentally wrong when you cannot get service from the government without a lawyer," Forseth said.
Forseth was also not optimistic about how much influence Canada can have to protect Sahba while she is in Iranian custody. "We can't do anything unless the minister herself decides to make this lady a person of concern and somehow sneaks her out of the country and gives her documents," he said. "That requires interest from the highest level - from the immigration minister and the justice minister - and I don't think they're going to do that."
Meanwhile, Siksay expressed shock that the government would return Sahba to Iran just one month after tabling a resolution at the United Nations about Iran's "unacceptable" record on human rights and the treatment of women.
"To take such a strong stand and then to deport people back to that country is completely unacceptable," Siksay said. "But this points to a complete failure in our refugee system. I'm not sure we can help Ms. Sahba at this point, however, we have to make sure this does not happen to anyone else. We know other refugees in Canada face torture, imprisonment or death if they are returned, and we have to tighten up the process and stop these deportations."
He also expressed surprise that his first formal contact from the Sahba family came just one day before Haleh's deportation, when he was shocked to discover that they were residents of North Burnaby.
"Unfortunately, we weren't able to contact her until she was in the car on the way to the airport," he said. "When we had the package of information delivered to our office on Monday afternoon, there was no contact information."
Siksay urged other refugee claimants to make sure that they use the services of a qualified lawyer and that they contact their local member of Parliament as part of the application process.
"In a serious situation like a deportation, they should leave no stone unturned," he said. "They need good legal advice. And if anyone is making agency applications on humanitarian grounds or if they have a pre-removal risk assessment, they should always be in touch with their member of Parliament.
"Immigration is a huge, huge proportion of every urban MP's work. In my office, it probably takes up 80 per cent of one staff person's time. But in all my years, this is one of the scariest, most heart- wrenching cases I've heard," said Siksay, who worked for 18 years as former MP Svend Robinson's constituency assistant before being elected to Parliament himself.
Political foes join forces to fight Iranian activist's deportation
The Vancouver Sun
Dec 18, 2004
BURNABY - Two unlikely allies have joined forces to pressure the federal government to protect Haleh Sahba, an Iranian activist who had been living in Burnaby before being deported back into the hands of that country's government earlier this month. Bill Siksay, the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, and Paul Forseth, the Conservative MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam, have decried the Dec. 7 deportation as an abrogation of Canada's commitment to human rights. Sahba, 30, was a refugee claimant in Canada, where her parents, brother and sister legally immigrated six years ago. Most recently, they had been living in North Burnaby, and Sahba worked for Starbucks for the past three years.
"I think the government of Canada has made a terrible, terrible mistake in the Haleh Sahba case," said Siksay, "This woman is an activist who was criminally charged for these activities in Iran, and to deport her back is both outrageous and unconscionable."
Woman deported from B.C. awaits trial in Iran
CTV.ca News Staff
December 9, 2004
An Iranian women's rights activist who was deported from Vancouver recently, despite telling immigration officials that she could be sentenced to death, is awaiting a court date.
Haleh Sahba was detained and released in Iran after being forced to leave Canada Tuesday, according to her sister.
She is facing several charges including leaving Iran illegally.
A lawyer in Iran sent a letter to Canadian authorities saying that she could be tried at an Islamic court where the maximum punishment is death.
Her sister Laleh Sahba told CTV's Renu Bakshi that she had been detained at Tehran Airport for 26 hours upon her arrival.
She tearfully recounted her conversation with her sister after she was released.
She said she pleaded over the phone "to please bring her back."
Canadian immigrations officials said 40 Iranians were deported from British Columbia in the past year and there hasn't been proof of any torture, Bakshi reported.
Sahba's lawyer told CTV's Rob Brown that she didn't do everything in her power to stay.
Peter Larlee said that she failed to ask a federal judge to review her denied refugee claim.
Her lawyer at the time, Lee Rankin, could not recall why they didn't seek the judicial review but said it is usually because clients cannot afford the expense.
Women's activist charged with leaving Iran illegally
Global BC, Broadcast News
December 9, 2004
CREDIT: Global BC
Haleh Sahba was arrested in Iran after she was deported from Canada Tuesday. Sahba told immigration officials she feared persecution in her country due to her work as a women's rights activist.
An Iranian woman deported from Vancouver was arrested within minutes of her return to Tehran, but was released after spending many hours in detention.
Haleh Sahba, 30, now faces charges of leaving Iran illegally.
Sahba lived in the Vancouver area for three years after fleeing her home country, where she had been jailed for defending women's rights.
She told Immigration Canada that she feared for her life if she was forced to return to Iran, but was refused refugee status and deported on Tuesday.
Sahba's family has now sent letters to every MLA in the province asking for their support to win her return to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
© Global BC, Broadcast
Women's activist deported to Iran despite fear of persecution
December 7, 2004
CREDIT: Global BC
Haleh Sahba, 30, was deported to Iran Tuesday after an emotional plea to stay in Canada failed to move immigration officials. Sahba fears persecution in her country due to her history as a women's rights activist there.
A woman was deported to Iran Tuesday despite her claims that she'll face punishment, possibly even death, for her history as a women's rights activist there.
The family of 30-year-old Haleh Sahba bid her a tearful goodbye at Vancouver International Airport before she boarded a plane bound for Tehran.
Sahba told immigration officials she had spent time in jail in Iran after campaigning for rights and freedoms for women in her home country and feared retaliation or execution if sent back.
She was denied refugee status although her parents and younger brother and sister legally immigrated to Canada six years ago.
Sahba worked at Starbucks for the last three years. The company had also been supporting her fight to stay in Canada.
© Global BC 2004