University faces heat for Khomeini event

September 2012

OTTAWA An event at Carleton University that celebrated the religious and political teachings of Iran's former theocratic ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has come under fire for ignoring the his dismal human rights record.

Ten Iranian-Canadian academics wrote a letter to Carleton's president Roseann O'Reilly Runte outlining their objections to the June 2 event titled "The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini's Thoughts."

Fourteen other prominent figures from Canada's sizable Iranian population, including Nazanin Afshin-Jam, wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay and a former Miss Canada, addressed a separate letter also voicing concerns about the positive portrayal of the late Khomeini at the conference.

The event was organized by a student group, the Iranian Culture Association of Carleton University, in collaboration with the Culture Centre of the Islamic Republic of Iran to honour the 23rd anniversary of Khomeini's death. According to the Iranian Culture Centre's report of the event, the three speakers "provided the perfect image of how great the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran truly was."

What was not discussed at the event, the letter writers contend, was Khomeini's human rights record, including his mass execution of political prisoners and minority groups and the many scholars and activists who were imprisoned under his regime, as documented by United Nations sanctions and Amnesty International reports. Among the signatories to the academics' letter is Ramin Jahanbegloo, a University of Toronto professor who was detained without charge by Iranian authorities in 2006.

"We think reputable academic institutions have a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye on atrocities committed against their colleagues in other countries," the letter reads.

The second letter states: "Carleton University, one of the leading academic institutions in this country, negligently permitted its campus to become the site of a celebration of human rights violations, gender inequality and anti-Semitism."

Carleton's response was brief. Mr. Runte replied with a one-line email to the academics that read, "Thank you and your colleagues for your recent letter. Carleton University did not sponsor or act as host to the event you mention."

A Carleton spokesperson later stated that the university hosts many events on its campus, and though subjects are sometimes controversial, views expressed do not reflect the university as a whole and Carleton, "like all other Canadian universities, encourages a culture of debate and free expression."

Although Carleton's statement said it played no role beyond hosting the event, campus security kept some students and protesters from participating.