Ottawa welcomes release of Iranian-Canadian from Iran's death row
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 11:28AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 24, 2013 2:45PM EDT
The federal government is calling the release of an Iranian-Canadian man who had been facing death row in Tehran a welcomed symbolic step from Iran.
Hamid Ghassemi-Shall was arrested in 2008 by Iranian police and charged with espionage. He was sentenced to death in 2009.
"We are obviously pleased that he has been able to be back with his family,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters in Montreal on Tuesday. “We want to encourage him obviously to return to Canada immediately before the situation changes."
But Baird warned that there is still a long way to go in order to improve Iranian relations.
"We want to see meaningful progress on human rights. It has an abysmal human rights record and that matters. We also want to see it take back steps from supporting terrorism," he said.
On Monday, Ghassemi-Shall's wife, Antonella Mega said she spoke with her husband after his release, but did not know when he would be leaving Iran.
"He sounds OK," Mega told CTV's News Channel. "He's still in the state of not really believing that he has seen the light and that he's breathing the fresh air. I think he's still exhilarated and a little bit out of sorts but extremely happy and delighted."
Mega said she has always been convinced of her husband's innocence and believes that the Iranian government knew this as well.
"I'm thankful that Iranian authorities released Hamid. We haven't given up on exculpating him and we've kept working throughout these years," Mega said.
Ghassemi-Shall, a Toronto shoe salesman, emigrated to Canada from Iran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. He had made several trips back to visit family without incident prior to 2008 when he was arrested.
Ghassemi-Shall was one of 80 prisoners released in Iran just hours after Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's departed to attend the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The unexpected, mass release is seen by some as an attempt to bridge relations between Iran and Western countries.
While in New York, Rouhani is expected to ask to restart stalled negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. The country has repeatedly denied charges that they are seeking to build a nuclear weapon and maintains that their nuclear program is for energy and cancer treatment.
Prior to leaving Iran, Rouhani urged Western leaders to roll back sanctions and move toward greater dialogue and negotiations.
During his address to the UN General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with the Iranian leader.
"We are encouraged that President Rouhani has received from the Iranian people a mandate to be a more moderate force," Obama said in his address to the UN.
Rouhini was elected in June, replacing outspoken and often antagonistic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press