A veteran human rights lawyer from Iran – and Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) inaugural Scholar at Risk – will deliver the keynote lecture during the University’s upcoming International Development Week.
In 2016, VIU joined the Scholars at Risk Network, an international organization dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom. This was one of several actions that the University undertook as part of its response to the unfolding refugee crisis in the Middle East.
Hossein Raeesi’s talk, entitled “Speaking Truth to Power in Iran,” will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 11:30 am in VIU’s Malaspina Theatre on the Nanaimo campus (the same talk will be delivered at the Cowichan campus on Feb. 14). “I’m going to talk about my personal story – and how power has been used to try and discourage me, and many other lawyers who have stood up for human rights in Iran,” he says.
Raeesi certainly has plenty of experience to draw on. He practiced law in Shiraz, Iran for 20 years, and defended political prisoners, journalists, and women and children who were sentenced to the death penalty.
In 2012, Raeesi moved to Canada with his daughter and son to escape pressure from the Iranian government. “They try to discourage you in your methods and your practice,” he says. For example, Raeesi notes government officials came to his home and threatened him and his family. A client was pressed to drop Raeesi as his lawyer, and his apprentices were discouraged from working with him.
Raeesi and his family found sanctuary in Canada with the support of the Scholars at Risk Network. “This program, I believe, is the best way to support academics and intellectuals in many areas of the world that are experiencing human rights abuses, civil war and other crises,” he says.
“Hosting a Scholar at Risk is an opportunity to broaden our perspectives on the world,” adds Darrell Harvey, VIU’s International Projects Coordinator. “It’s also a way to stand in solidarity with members of the wider academic community who face violence and persecution for challenging the status quo.”
Raeesi is currently an adjunct professor of law in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University. Previous to that, he served as an in-house scholar at Carleton and the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.
Despite the challenges that Raeesi faced in Iran as a human rights lawyer, he’s also optimistic about his home country’s future – thanks to factors including improvements in women’s rights and a growing and modernizing middle class.
Raeesi will also deliver a second talk on Feb. 9, entitled “Reconciling Rights: International Human Rights, Sharia Law and the Islamic Legal System,” as part of VIU’s International Development Week.
This annual event – which runs Feb. 6 to Feb. 10 – features campus events, visiting speakers and classroom dialogues that explore global development at home and abroad. This year’s theme is celebrating global citizenship, with topics including human rights, political engagement, migration, science and technology, social justice and more. All events are free and open to the public; for more details, please visit the full schedule.
Glenn Drexhage, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
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