A Canadian resident who has spent the last 11 years imprisoned and allegedly tortured in Iran is back in Metro Vancouver after a small group of family and local humanitarians chipped in to facilitate his escape.
Last Friday, Saeed Malekpour arrived in Vancouver, said Port Moody resident — and Coquitlam restaurateur — Fred Soofi who has been in contact with the family.
In a video posted to Malekpour’s sister’s Facebook page, he can be seen arriving at Vancouver International Airport.
“The nightmare is finally over,” reads the caption in part.
Malekpour escaped his on-going prison sentence more than a decade after he was caught in a sweeping set of arrests by the Cyber Crimes Unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Under operation ‘Whirlpool,’ the unit sought to crack down on online activities deemed “immoral” or “un-Islamic,” according to Amnesty International.
Only a week before Malekpour’s getaway, a group of supporters had pooled together more than $100,000 to post bail for him after it was discovered he would be offered a three-day pass from prison to visit family in Tehran.
Soofi told The Tri-City News he was one of the individuals who helped put up the bail money with the secret knowledge that Malekpour would be whisked out of the country before his three days were up.
“We knew it was coming up but we couldn’t tell anybody because we didn’t want it to get back to Iran,” Soofi said.
On the third and final day of bail, Malekpour was smuggled into a neighbouring country by unidentified individuals. His sister Maryam Malekpour flew out to meet him and, after a three-day furlough waiting for Canadian consular officials to re-instate his residency, the two were on a plane bound for Vancouver.
“We were expecting that it would take two or three weeks. That was a risky situation,” said Soofi. “We are really thankful to the Canadian government.”
In an email response to The Tri-City News, spokesperson for Global Affairs wrote the federal department would provide few details on Malekpour’s case due to privacy concerns.
“Canada welcomes the news that Saeed Malekpour has been reunited with his family in Canada,” wrote spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé. “We have advocated for Mr. Malekpour’s release and are pleased that he is now in Canada.”
Now 44, Saeed Malekpour was first arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in October 2008, while he was on a trip to visit his ailing father in Tehran.
Malekpour was originally sentenced to death in 2010 for “spreading corruption on earth” because of a web tool he created for uploading photographs.
The regime alleged Malekpour had distributed pornography with the program, but Malekpour has maintained it was used without his permission.
According to Malekpour and Amnesty International, the Revolutionary Guards’ Cyber Counterattack Team found his name in the credits of the photograph upload utility, and based on that, he was thrown into solitary confinement, allegedly tortured and humiliated on Iranian television; his mother also had a heart attack when she saw his picture in what Malekpour describes as a false confession.
In a 2010 open letter detailing his pre-trial detainment, Malekpour described some of the torture he was alleged to have suffered:
“While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons, and their fists struck and punched me. At times, they would flog my head and neck. Such mistreatment was aimed at forcing me to write what the interrogators were dictating, and to compel me to play a role in front of the camera based on their scenarios. Sometimes, they used extremely painful electrical shock that would paralyze me temporarily. Once in October 2008, the interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water.”
Now back at his sister’s home, Malekpour is busy setting up visits with physicians, dentists and counsellors to deal with the scars of over a decade of imprisonment, Soofi said.
And while Malekpour is alleged to have endured significant trauma as a prisoner in Evin Prison, it also appears the software engineer found ways to cope — and took up art along the way.
In one piece that preceded Malekpour’s return to Canada, a likeness of a leopard juts out of a hefty block of wood in what appears to be a combination of carving and wood inlay.
When Malekpour finished the piece, he handed it off to his mother, who in turn, had it flown in someone’s luggage to his sister, according to Soofi.
Over the last decade, Maryam — a longtime Coquitlam resident who just moved to New Westminster — has led efforts to free her brother from prison, eventually bringing the leopard to display at an Amnesty International event in Vancouver to whip up support for Malekpour’s release.
“That was a month and a half ago,” said Soofi, who has been taking care of the piece of art ever since. “We didn’t know he’d be released.”
Today, the painting sits at Soofi's home waiting to be returned to the Malekpours.
“This is one of a thousand cases in Iran. Luckily, this one ended in release,” said Soofi outside his Port Moody home. “There are so many of them that are arrested. We want to help all of them.”
— With files from The Canadian Press