"Dangerous Book" Detainee Likely To Be Released Friday Morning

Mahmoud Namini has spent over a month in detention centre for carrying "suspicious" reading materials

Hundreds of People from Across Canada Flood Immigration Minister's Office with Letters Demanding his Release

TORONTO, DECEMBER 2, 2004 -- Good news is hard to come by when it comes to the plight of refugees and immigrants in Canada, but we are happy to report that following a detention review this morning at Metro West Detention Centre, Seyed Mahmoud Namini, 44, was ordered released from custody. Unfortunately, after a long day of waiting for him to appear, his fiancé Nahid and a small group of friends and supporters were told to come back tomorrow because paperwork and other bureaucratic backups made it too late to release him on Thursday afternoon.

And so, hopefully, Mr. Namini will walk free Friday morning, December 3, one week shy of International Human Rights Day. For those unaware of that upcoming occasion, this will be when sanctimonious government of Canada officials will issue wondrous platitudes about the freedom to think, speak, read, and not be subject to arbitrary detention, rights which have all been violated since the October 28 detention of Mr. Namini for the crime of carrying in his luggage "suspicious" reading material.

Namini's successful detention review, argued by attorney Andrew Brouwer, comes after an intensive public campaign which saw hundreds of people from across the country writing to Immigration Minister Judy Sgro and "Public Safety" Minister Anne McLellan demanding Namini's release.

And it comes the day after a spirited, surreal demonstration took place Wednesday, December 1 at the strip-mall constituency office of of Citizenship and Inquisition (er, immigration?)minister Judy Sgro in North York. Despite heavy snow and rain, about 40 friends, family and supporters of Namini marched on the locked-down office. As they did so, the sun quickly peered out from behind the clouds -- a hopeful sign.

The group offered personalized copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in English and Farsi to office staff, who peered from behind window blinds and refused to open their locked-down office to receive the gifts. So the documents were taped to the windows in the hope they might make good use of them later.

As Metro Police and RCMP stood by to monitor, assess, provide critical real-time surveillance, and respond if necessary to any "situation" which might arise from this peaceful crowd, a member of the group then attempted to tape a handmade sign which read "Freedom of Thought" to the front door of the office.

But something must have been wrong with this sign, for at that moment, an RCMP officer suddenly stepped in and proclaimed, "Now THAT's going too far." Which made our point, that to exercise freedom of thought, especially when that exercise does not come accompanied by white skin privilege, is still a crime in Canada, no matter how many good words are uttered by Freedom-praising politicians and self-congratulatory media pundits.

Indeed, one could be excused for failing to be inspired by the frequent use of the F word by war criminal George W. Bush and complicit-in-war-crimes Prime Minister Paul Martin during their two-day love-in in Ottawa and Halifax. But anyone attending this demo might have felt the word "Freedom" had deeper meaning as they heard it chanted by a group composed largely of former Iranian political prisoners, many of whom had spent years in torture chambers for being freedom fighters in their homeland.

Because for this community, and for the family at the focus of this demonstration, freedom is not an abstract word uttered by very privileged and insulated white men who surround themselves with thousands of riot police to hide from people exercising their freedoms. Rather, it is a word that represents their own very real sacrifice and suffering, something one can never take for granted, because this fragile right that can be so easily taken away from them.

Which is what happened to Nahid and her fiancé after what should have been a normal trip to Canada to finalize marriage preparations turned into a nightmare of Orwellian scale. Copies of the "suspicious" book -- which details an uprising of freedom fighters against the Khomeini regime in Iran during the early 1980s -- were originally considered suspect because there were pictures of "militants" on the cover. That suspicion and the ensuing investigation into national security worries conducted by the War Crimes Unit of the Canadian Border Services Agency left Mr. Namini criminalized in a Canadian detention centre. (It perhaps could also account for the lack of federal government resources available to arrest George W. Bush.)

The inside of the book, written in Farsi, features news clippings and photos of those murdered by the regime which was then -- and still is -- viewed as an enemy of the "West," with the regime's opponents considered heroes by "Western" governments and Nobel Peace Prize committees. And yet one of that regime's opponents, himself a survivor of five years in their wretched prisons, sits as of this writing re-traumatized in Canadian detention for simply wanting to share with friends this book about a struggle for freedom.

Members of the demonstration proudly held copies of the book high above their heads in defiance, as if to say, "If it is such a crime for Mr. Namini to have this book, then take us as well."

One woman holding the book introduced herself and showed a photograph in the book of her late husband. "He is in this book. He was tortured to death in their [Iranian] prisons." The picture of the young man evoked memories of similar images from post-coup Chile, from the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, from New York in September 2001, when faded pictures of loved ones paint a quiet testament to tragic loss.

This was no ordinary demonstration, for it involved not only the subject of the detention, Mr. Namini, but also the fear that must dwell within some if its participants. Indeed, an individual arrest has ripple effects which spread through a community. Mr. Namini is not the only suspicious one. It becomes every person who owns this book, every person associated with this book, everyone who knows someone who might own this book.

As memories of her own 10 years as a political prisoner flood back over her, this woman too may be deemed suspicious in the eyes of Canadian authorities: her loved one is in this suspect book, and at a time when guilt by association runs rampant in this country, she too is guilty -- for the crime of love, for the crime of thinking, for the crime of believing that freedom is more than the choice between Pepsi and Coke, but rather something that has profound meaning and possibility.

And so her courage, and the courage of so many others who have come out to this demonstration, provides a compelling lesson for those of us who live in our comfortable Canadian bubble. Media ask why folks would not use their last names, not realizing that many still have family back in Iran, and that anything they say here could prove dangerous to loved ones thousands of miles away. Or even closer to home, perhaps immigration may want to re-open a closed file on one of these individuals if they become a bit too noisy, a bit too noticeable, or if they step a bit too far out of their place in the Canadian pecking order.

Anyone doubting the wrath of Canadian security and immigration bureaucrats need look no further than the case of Mohammad Mahjoub, whose wife, Mona El-Fouli, was visiting Metro West this morning as folks waited for the Namini detention review to finish.

Mahjoub has been held over four years without charge or bail on secret "evidence" neither he nor his lawyer is allowed to see, and he faces possible deportation to torture.

And so tomorrow morning as we eagerly await Mahmoud Namini's expected release, we will celebrate this individual victory, recognizing that public pressure can make a difference; that relentless persistence in search of justice can pay off; and remembering that much work remains to be done on the cases of the Secret Trial Five, the cases of the countless families being torn apart by a heartless deportation factory, the cases of those who have sought sanctuary because there is still no appeal process for refugees in Canada, the growing detention of hundreds of refugees in Canada, the thousands who have gone underground rather than submit to unjust deportation, and the many other injustices which continue to afflict refugee and immigrant communities in this country.

Thank you to all who have written letters, made phone calls, sent faxes, spoken about this case, shown up at the demonstration and at the detention centre, and who have provided support to Mr. Namini and Nahid

(Remember Friday, December 10, International Human Rights Day, is also a National Day of Action to Stop Secret Trials in Canada! For details email tasc@web.ca)

(report from Matthew Behrens, Toronto Action for Social Change)