Iranian human rights defender facing deportation

Djaber Kalibi
Photo : Pedro Ruiz - Le Devoir

By M. Cooke

At 77 years old, most people are concerned with spending time with their family and having enough money for their retirement.

In July, 2013, the Canadian government gave Djaber Kalibi and his family something worse.  Upon returning from a trip to France, the Canadian government confiscated his passport and gave him a deportation order.

“I’ve been here 9 years. How is this possible?” asks Kalibi.

Kalibi and his wife and two daughters moved to Canada from France in 2005. He applied for permanent residence, but all he received was a work permit.

Kalibi, who has a PhD in political science from a German university, was able to find work at a private college in Montreal, where his family settled.

But now, Kalibi and his family’s lives are up in the air. All their belongings are packed in boxes, as they are in the process of moving from their family home in Montreal.

When I asked him where they are moving, he is silent. “I don’t know… it depends on what happens,” says Kalibi.

It is a cruel fate for a man who has fought for justice and freedom all his life.

As a student studying in Germany in the 1970s, he joined the worldwide Confederation of Iranian Students and began to speak out about the abuses of the Shah in Iran. He returned to Iran during the 1979 revolution and participated in the massive protests that ousted the Shah.

However the broad-based grassroots movement to overthrow the Shah was subverted by Islamic groups led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Kalibi continued to work as a professor in Iran until 1982, when he fled to France as a refugee. By this time, the new Islamic regime had already executed thousands of Iranians during the first few years in power.

In France, Kalibi continued to be concerned with the welfare of those back home.  He was troubled that the violent Khomeini-led contingent had been able to co-opt much of the people’s movement and install a theocratic regime. Here, In France, he met with other refugees to discuss what had gone wrong in the movement to overthrow the Shah, and organized educational and political actions to resist the newly established Islamic Republic that was oppressing critical and dissenting voices within its population.

At a time when France was attempting to normalize its relations with Iran, Kalibi’s outspokenness against the Islamic Republic of Iran began to attract the attention of the French government. In 1986, the political police in France arrested Kalibi and four others. They were interrogated for four days straight and he was initially charged with terrorism, but the charges were subsequently reduced to a misdemeanour.

Despite the surveillance of both France and Iran, Kalibi continued to organize solidarity for those seeking change in Iran.  In 1990, the Interior Minister of France tried to have several Iranians deported to silence their activism against the Iranian government. The judge at the Supreme Court declared that the deportation order was unconstitutional and that Kalibi posed no threat to France.

Prison sentences and threats of deportation have not deterred Kalibi from speaking out. For over 30 years, Kalibi has denounced the Iranian government for their numerous human rights violations (including torture, unlawful imprisonment, mass execution of prisoners, and legally entrenched gender inequality) along with their treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Despite the repressive regime, Kalibi does not support an invasion of the country by Western powers seeking regime change and instead believes that the Iranian people can bring about social and political change in their country.

In 2013, during the lead up to Iran’s presidential election, John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Minister, spoke out about the abuses of the Iranian regime.

Baird said that: “the Iranian people will not forever tolerate the hypocrisy and corruption of the regime; the wanton waste of its resources; and the transformation of a proud nation into a pariah.”

Baird also spoke about supporting Iranian activists both inside and outside of Iran.

“We stand with the courageous activists inside Iran…with the dedicated Canadian diaspora outside Iran …and with freedom-loving people everywhere who want a brighter future for your country,” said Baird.

In May 2013, Canada’s Foreign Minister spoke about supporting Iranians in their desire for a country free from Khamenei’s regime, and yet in July 2013, the Canadian government begins the process of deporting one such activist.

Baird’s words seemed to have spoken directly to Kalibi’s situation.

“Under the burden of escalating repression, the regime is forcing activists to leave. As they do, others take their place, subjected to the full force of this regime’s anger… They can take comfort, knowing that Iran’s democratic voices have begun the hard, patient work of bringing about a free and open society in Iran,” said Baird.

Baird even spoke about engaging activists by standing with “human rights defenders who take such tremendous personal risks in trying to protect others.”

But instead, Kalibi, a long time activist, is told that Canada does not support him. Kalibi received his deportation order shortly after the election of the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, in June 2013.

On June 12, Kalibi expects to hear whether his deportation order to France will be overturned.

The Canadian government is using the same materials from the French case nearly 30 years ago to argue that he is a threat to the “national interests” of Canada.

Twenty-eight years ago, the highest court in France “la cour de cassation” (the Supreme Court of France) dismissed the case against Kalibi. But this time, there is no court to judge whether he or not he is a threat. Instead, his case rests in the hands of a commission and specifically those of the Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney.

Kalibi believes that the only way to overturn the order will be to generate public pressure to have him stay. To this end, he has worked with Solidarity Across Borders in Montreal to raise awareness and they have managed to get thousands of signatures.

Today, it appears easier for wealthy Iranian officials, supporters and beneficiaries of the brutal hand of the Islamic Republic, to enter Canada than it does for those Iranian dissenters, thinkers, and artists who are critical of the regime.

When I asked Kalibi whether he has any regrets, he says: “It is a choice. It is a legitimate struggle and I don’t step back. I am fighting for a world without the misery we see around us. And I am in solidarity with those who struggle for a better world.”

Djaber Kalibi Photo : Pedro Ruiz - Le Devoir

Djaber Kalibi
Photo : Pedro Ruiz – Le Devoir