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Coquitlam sister 'hoping and praying' Iranian agents don't rearrest brother

A Coquitlam woman’s brother has been released from an Iranian prison on bail after the family and a Tri-Cities Amnesty group petitioned the country’s president and local supreme courts.
Coquitlam's Soheila Talebi-Eskandari says her brother and sister-in-law were released from an Iranian prison after family, governments and a local Tri-Cities Amnesty group pressured officials. - Submitted

A Coquitlam woman’s brother has been released from an Iranian prison on bail after the family and a Tri-Cities Amnesty group petitioned the country’s president and local supreme courts. 

Soheila Talebi-Eskandari fled Iran three decades ago, escaping religious persecution as the country’s revolutionary government began cracking down on the Bahá’í religious community in the early 1990s.

But her brother, Houshmand Talebi, and his family have inherited the same harassment and persecution many others of their faith endure, and in August Talebi and his wife Mojdeh Eghterafi were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned by Iranian intelligence agents, according to the sister. 

Agents confiscated many of the family’s most valuable belongings, including the husband’s truck, which he used to distribute shampoo and soap to local stores, as the Bahá’í are a banned from attending university.

“They even took an acoustic piano my niece would play,” said Soheila at the time, who suspects it was because 15-year-old Nawal Talebi maintained a public Instagram account where she would share her music. “It reminds me of an armed robbery but you have the permission of the Supreme Leader.”

Soheila said the family has not been offered any information on charges against the couple, who’ve been imprisoned for five months, and none of their belongings have been returned.

Pressure has come from various sides: media organizations in Canada and Australia have picked up the story, and the family has sent letters to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and judges at a Supreme Court in Isfahan, where they were imprisoned.

“We got an answer from Rohani’s office, that they’d look into it and see what’s happening,” said Soheila. “But it was not a clear answer.”

For months, Soheila’s sister — still living in Iran — would go back to the local Islamic Revolutionary Guard office asking for answers. 

Then, still locked up, the brother contracted COVID-19.

And while he has since recovered, Soheila thinks his deteriorating physical health — he also has a chronic back condition — outside pressure and another sibling putting her house up as collateral for bail eventually tipped the balance in favour of their temporary release.

A spokesperson for Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP Ron McKinnon — who raised the case in the fall to then Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne — said his office was made aware of the couples’ release last week and welcomes the outcome.

In October, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Global Affairs told the Tri-City News it was monitoring the human rights situation in Iran closely, and that the Canadian government “remains deeply concerned by the Iranian government’s unrelenting targeting and arbitrary arrest of the Bahá’i,” urging “Iran to ensure the immediate and safe release of these prisoners.”

It’s not clear, however, how much — if any — effect such petitions have on alleged human rights cases in Iran, as the Canadian government has not had formal diplomatic ties with the country since 2012.

“With the government of Iran, you can never say, ‘with this, that happened,’” said Soheila. “Maybe they come tomorrow. Maybe they come in a month or year. They’re very unpredictable.”

Still, the couple’s freedom, however fleeting, has brought a sense of relief to the family.

“The kids are happy. My mom’s happy. Even if it’s for a little while, it’s good,” said the Coquitlam sister. “We’re just hoping and praying that they don’t call back.”