By Cassandra Hendry, TLS staff writer
For Hossein Raeesi, a criminal and human rights lawyer from Iran, the fight to end injustice and guarantee human rights for the oppressed is just a part of his daily job.
After working for 20 years in Shiraz, Raeesi moved to Canada in 2012 to escape undue detention and legal actions from the Iranian government. Thanks to a new program at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, he is now able to teach and learn in Ottawa free from prosecution.
As public interest and scrutiny into international human rights increases, Carleton and uOttawa have joined Scholars at Risk (SAR), an international network of higher education institutions dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom worldwide.
As part of the program, Carleton and uOttawa have pledged to co-host a number of the world’s brightest scholars for one-year appointments – the first being Raeesi.
“In Iran as a human rights lawyer, and a very active one at that, who trained law students and legal apprentices, the Iranian judiciary system and some governmental organizations became very sensitive to my career and activities,” says Raeesi.
While in Iran, Raeesi says the government monitored his career and coerced some of his clients to drop him as their lawyer, telling them that they would receive more charges if they continued with Raeesi.
For a lawyer who specializes in human rights—supporting women, children, minority groups, LGBTQ citizens, political activists and more—working in the Iranian judiciary system that uses Sharia law was often a challenge.
“Not everything in Sharia law is against human rights, but honestly it has conflicts with international human rights principles. Because the Iranian system follows Sharia law, it creates real problems for human rights activists and for lawyers like myself,” he says.
Thanks to the Scholars at Risk program, Raeesi will be taking courses at uOttawa toward professional accreditation as a lawyer in Ontario, in addition to helping Canadian law students learn more about his passion – international legal systems. The fourth-year Carleton course he currently teaches, Human Rights, Sharia Law and Islamic Legal System, draws directly from his personal experiences.
His course centers on research and discussion, allowing a handful of students per class to share their own research about the course’s main topics. Raeesi says he also integrates his own law cases into the course, allowing students to get a glimpse of real-world Iranian legal issues.
“I love teaching and I’m so happy to be involved with these young students. All of them are actively looking for new ideas about Sharia law and the connection to human rights, and I’m glad that they follow it well and enjoy it,” he says.
“Sharing these experiences with my students and colleagues creates a common ground and helps remove misconceptions about Muslim societies, which is something we all need.”
To learn more about the Scholars at Risk network, visit the Faculty Affairs website.