TORONTO — NDP Leader Jack Layton is urging Ottawa to send a senior member of Parliament to Iran to secure the release of Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari.
Speaking Sunday morning at Bahari’s home in downtown Toronto, Layton said the government’s response to the detention so far has been “disappointing.”
Bahari, 42, was among dozens of journalists and bloggers arrested in Tehran last month in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed presidential elections. He was working for Newsweek magazine.
Born in Iran in 1967, Bahari came to Canada and studied communications at Concordia University in Montreal. He had been in Iran for the past decade covering the country.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called in the senior Iranian diplomat in Canada and reiterated the government’s demand that Bahari be granted consular access and that the charges against him be clarified.
In an email Sunday, ministry spokesman Rodney Moore said that Cannon had also met with the Iranian charge d’affaires the day after Bahari’s June 21 arrest. The department has received confirmation from Iranian officials of Bahari’s whereabouts, Moore said.
Layton said the government needs to do more.
“The next step is for the Prime Minister to ask a senior member of Parliament to attend in Iran and show the seriousness which Canadians feel about this situation,” he told reporters.
“The idea that the Iranian government simply doesn’t recognize his Canadian citizenship can’t be allowed to just be accepted.”
Those who gathered in Bahari’s leafy backyard Sunday said they hadn’t heard anything from their friend since he was arrested.
Long-time friend Amy Marcus said she had spoken with Bahari’s fiancee, who lives in London and is five months pregnant, earlier Sunday morning.
“She’s terrified and trying to do everything that she can to find out what’s going on, and to encourage people to help,” Marcus said.
Another friend, Charles Harp, described Bahari as an “extraordinarily thoughtful” man and said news of his arrest was “shocking.”
“I think this is a circumstance where the squeaky wheel gets oiled. It’s time for Canadians to step up, to speak up, and take care of their own,” said Harp.
Iranian authorities clamped down on foreign journalists when protests engulfed Tehran after the June 12 election, which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with nearly two-thirds of the popular vote.
After Bahari’s arrest, Newsweek issued a statement defending his coverage as “fair and nuanced” and called for his release.
On the weekend, Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, wrote that Iranian officials had granted Bahari two phone calls, and on both occasions, he called his 83-year-old mother.
Layton said the Iranian government has a golden opportunity to show the world it’s committed to human rights by releasing Bahari.
“Mr. Bahari is known for his very wise, thoughtful, balanced analysis of complex situations. That’s why he’s become such a successful journalist,” said Layton.
“They (the Iran government) should do the right thing — release this respected Canadian journalist.”
In addition to his work for Newsweek, Bahari has also produced films and documentaries for the BBC and the National Film Board.
His supporters have set up a Facebook group, “Free Maziar Bahari!,” that calls for his freedom.
In 2004, another Canadian-Iranian reporter, photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, died while in Iranian custody.