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Canadian’s arrest shows why we must press Iran on human rights

Marina Nemat is co-chair of the board of directors at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and the author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran

Homa Hoodfar, a professor at Concordia University and a Canadian-Iranian, has been arrested in Iran. She was conducting research. Her passport and other documents were confiscated in March, shortly before she was supposed to return to Canada. She was interrogated and released on bail. Now, she's in Evin prison.

My school friend, Shahnoosh Behzadi, was executed in Evin in 1981 and is buried in a mass grave. She was 15. I was 16 when I was arrested in 1982 and taken to Evin prison. I was taken into a room and tied to a bare wooden bed, lying down on my stomach. Two men stood over me. One of them took off my socks and my shoes and lashed the soles of my feet with a length of cable, which was as thick as a garden hose and made of heavy rubber. With every strike of the lash, it felt like my nervous system exploded. If the devil appeared, I would have sold my soul to get out of that room. They gave me documents to sign, and I signed everything. Later, one of my interrogators raped me after forcing me to "marry" him.

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Today, Iran's prisons are as brutal as in the 1980s. In 2003, Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist was killed under torture in Evin. However, recently, when dealing with dual nationals, Iranian officials are usually more careful with physical torture. Dual nationals are used as hostages to trade for favours with the West, so they are usually not visibly "damaged." Iranian authorities have shown that they have no regard for human life and dignity, but they do care about money and power, so it's to their advantage that hostages survive. The same is not true for Iranian prisoners who have no trading value; most are brutally tortured, physically and psychologically.

Since Hassan Rouhani became the Iranian President, various governments and politicians around the world have rejoiced that Iran now has a "moderate" leader. No doubt, Mr. Rouhani's language is much milder than that of his predecessor, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who was very vocal in his hatred of the West. After him, Mr. Rouhani, who uses mild, diplomatic language, felt like an angel. But the number of executions has climbed under his watch. Writers, bloggers and journalists were still arrested and put in prison. None of the members of the Baha'i faith who were put behind bars only because of their beliefs were released and more were arrested. The laws of Iran, which value the testimony of a woman as half of a man's, and that of a Christian or a Jew as half of a Muslim's, remained the same. The West negotiated with Iran, and a nuclear deal was achieved. But the United States and other Western countries decided to overlook Iran's terrible human rights record.

For a while during the reign of Mr. Rouhani, women received some superficial freedoms: the hijab laws relaxed a little, and women who wore makeup and tight clothing were not arrested as frequently by morality police. However, for the past few months, Iranian women have been under fire again. It looks like the government of Mr. Rouhani wants to make sure that Iranians understand that the nuclear deal doesn't mean more freedoms. A few weeks ago, a few Iranian models, beautiful girls who had dared post their hijab-less photos on Facebook, were arrested and forced to confess to their "immorality." They had to repent from their "sins."

Homa Hoodfar is a new hostage of a horrific, brutal system that has been torturing, killing and raping for more than 35 years. We need to speak out not only about her but also about all the other prisoners and hostages of the regime. No, I'm not asking for the West to attack Iran. War doesn't fix anything in the long run. However, let's speak out and name and shame the torturers. Trade with Iran is lucrative. But let's set parameters and stick to them when it comes to relations and trade, or the hostage taking, killing, torture and rape will continue bloodier than ever before, and we will become accomplices.

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