Antonella Mega and Hamid Ghassemi-Shall before his arrest in May 2008. (Photo courtesy of Antonella Mega.)
This is an anniversary Antonella Mega never wanted to see.
Instead of a party, there will be an Amnesty International vigil in the Beaches on Monday. It’s to commemorate the fifth year of imprisonment for Mega’s husband Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, an Iranian-born Canadian who was seized in Tehran on May 24, 2008, while on a family visit, tried on widely-decried charges of espionage and put on death row in Evin Prison.
Ghassemi-Shall was not a political refugee, but someone who believed that his life would be better in free and prosperous Canada. He emigrated, got a job as a salesman in a fashionable shoe store and fell in love with Mega, whose background is Italian. For a few years it was the perfect Toronto success story: a multicultural couple working hard and enjoying their lives in their home in the Beaches, out fishing, entertaining friends or walking their beloved German shepherd. They were planning to adopt a child.
That all ended when Ghassemi-Shall answered a plea to fly to his sick mother’s bedside. As a devoted son and Canadian with no Iranian political baggage, he didn’t hesitate. He had made previous family trips and anticipated no problems.
But this time his reception was catastrophic. His brother, a former naval officer, was arrested and later died in suspicious circumstances in Evin Prison (the authorities insist it was from cancer.) Ghassemi-Shall was detained shortly after his brother and accused of joining him in a treasonous plot against the clerical regime. A death sentence followed a sham trial in which he had no chance to defend himself.
Ottawa has protested. People from around the world have signed petitions and sent letters of support. On Monday from 6.30 to 9.30 pm Mega, Amnesty members and well-wishers will gather for a vigil in St. John Anglican Church on Woodbine Ave. at Kingston Rd.
They’ll hear a talk on the brutality of life in Evin by award-winning author and former prisoner Marina Nemat, and watch a video about Ghassemi-Shall’s incarceration by 14-year-old Beatrice Perusse, who was deeply moved by his story. They can also sign a giant banner urging his release, and bound for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.
On Monday Parliament will also launch an Iranian political prisoner advocacy project in which prisoners, including Ghassemi-Shall, will be “adopted” by MPs.
Mega’s message is simple: free Hamid. And now. Five years is five too many.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to South Asia and the Middle East, winning national and international awards.