WASHINGTON - Iran's delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council faces being isolated by the envoys of free nations this week after it emerged that its leader is one of Iran's most notorious censors and prosecutors of dissidents who the Canadians hold responsible for acquitting those who raped and murdered one of their female citizens.
The infamous Saeed Mortazavi this week led Iran's delegation in Geneva to the first session of the United Nation's newly reconfigured human rights panel on Monday, even though Iran is not a member of that panel. Mr. Mortazavi is accused by the Canadian government of playing a role in the rape and murder of a woman journalist and photographer, is credited with closing more than 100 newspapers, and was responsible not only for jailing the students who led the July 9, 1999, pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran but of clearing the security officials accused of torturing them.
To top it off, he is the lead prosecutor in the regime's legal efforts against the Iranian dissident leader, Akbar Ganji.
Already human rights groups, Iranian oppositionists, and the Canadian government have expressed outrage at Mr. Mortazavi's presence in Geneva. A group of activists still languishing in jail following his prosecution of them in 1999 will be writing a letter to the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, according to Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who arrived in Washington last month from Tehran, where he spent time in various prisons.
At the same time, State Department spokesmen in Washington, the United Nations, and Geneva failed to respond to repeated requests for comment on Mr. Mortazavi's attendance in Geneva, perhaps reflecting the Bush administration's new emphasis on enticing Iran into negotiations over its enrichment of uranium.
The harshest words yesterday came from Canada's foreign minister, who again reiterated Ottawa's contention that Mr. Mortazavi played a significant role in the murder of Canadian citizen, Zahra Kazemi, who was killed and believed to have been brutally raped inside an Iranian jail in 2003 after taking photographs of a student demonstration commemorating the July 9, 1999 Tehran University uprising.
The Canadian foreign minister, Peter MacKay, minced no words yesterday, saying his nation was "disgusted" that Mr. Mortazavi would show his face in Geneva, and that the decision to include him in Iran's delegation to the human rights council "demonstrates the Government of Iran's complete contempt for internationally recognized principles of human rights."
He went even further, noting that the information Ottawa has compiled on Mr. Mortazavi's role in the murder of Kazemi was being shared with the government of Switzerland, hinting that Canada may be rallying support not only for international isolation of the Iranian judge but possibly for his arrest by Swiss authorities.
One reason Mr. Mortazavi is said to be hated by Iranians is his role in the persecution of Mr. Ganji. Last summer, during Mr. Ganji's hunger strike, Mr. Mortazavi spent hours at his bedside, directing doctors at times to force feed him and threatening to send security forces against his family.
Last June, after Mr. Ganji was re-arrested for telling an online opposition news outlet, Rooz Online, that he would boycott the presidential elections that resulted in the ascendance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Mortazavi arranged for the journalist to share a cell with a hardened criminal.
A friend of Mr. Ganji's, Mohsen Sazegara yesterday compared the Mullah's decision to send Mr. Mortazavi to Geneva to Germany in 1944 sending the notorious mass murderer Adolf Eichman to a human rights parley.
"Most of the Iranians evaluate this as a show of power from Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei is saying, 'Okay, I can arrest anyone I want and the world cannot do anything," he said.
Mr. Fakhravar yesterday said Iran had "made a fool of the rest of the world" by sending Mr. Mortazavi to Geneva. He added, "If the world wants to show to Iran that they are genuinely committed to human rights they ought to arrest him at least for the murder of Zahra Kazemi."
The deputy executive director of Freedom House noted that the decision to send Mr. Mortazavi to Geneva demonstrated a new brazenness from the regime. "This is not just sending accomplished obstructors to the human rights council, it is sending a notorious human rights abuser," Thomas Melia said yesterday.
"How he is received by other delegations will tell us about their intentions on reform of the human rights council. It also tells us Iran is not even pretending to be serious about reform. This is clearly giving the finger to the United Nations."
The deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch yesterday said Iran's decision to send Mr. Mortazavi to the meetings in Geneva demonstrated the country's "utter contempt for human rights and the new council." He added, "Iran has just confirmed why U.N. members refused to elect it to the Human Rights Council."