Nazanin Afshin-Jam escaped Iran as a child to become Miss Canada, a performing artist and activist for her countrymen and women

A human rights campaign launched by a former Miss Canada – and Iranian native – Nazanin Afshin-Jam on behalf of an Iranian teen sentenced to death for defending herself from rape is being taken to the next level, because of nearly two dozen other teens still sitting on Iran’s death row.

“We’ve actually taken it up a notch,” Afshin-Jam told WND in an interview. “We’re trying to deal with the problem from the root, and make changes in the laws and practices in Iran, specifically concerning minors, those who have been convicted of offenses before the age of 18.”

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a rising performing star working with the international entertainment giant Bodog Music, got involved with Nazanin Fatehi’s case because of their shared name, and her escape from Iran as a child.

The year-long campaign included a petition signed by more than 350,000 people, speeches and rallies around the world and mobilization of the International Committee Against Execution, Amnesty International, the European Union and Canada’s Parliament, and culminated in the special presentation of “The Tale of Two Nazanins.”

The performing star had announced a short time ago that her efforts were successful in obtaining a retrial – and release – of the Iranian teen.

“My namesake Nazanin was 17 years old when she was sentenced to death by the Iranian Courts for stabbing one of three men who attempted to rape her and her 15 –year-old niece,” Afshin-Jam announced. “The injustice of this case propelled me to start a petition and campaign to help save her life…”

Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi was sentenced to death for defending herself from rape, then released

After the defendant Nazanin was released, she told interviewers, through a translator, that her freedom is “like a new birthday.” Her lawyer, Mr. Mostafaei, also reported she said she wanted to return to school and regain her life. The release was conditioned on the payment of about $43,000 bail money, which Afshin-Jam also helped raise.

“When I heard the news of my death sentence I was devastated. I wished to die [rather] than being executed. While in prison I received some news of the activities for my freedom. If it wasn’t for all the efforts on my behalf, I would not have been released,” Fatehi said.

Now, Afshin-Jam said, a new Help Nazanin website is being assembled to carry the campaign forward on behalf of other teens facing execution in Iran.

“We’re going to have a petition up which people can sign. They can support this campaign. We’re also going to have pictures, the stories of each of the 23 individuals who are up on death row, where we can get them,” she said.

Afshin-Jam told WND that Iran’s internal laws, which call for execution for a variety of seemingly justifiable actions, are those used by the court system to decide such cases.

The goals of the expanded campaign are twofold, she said. “We have seen that whenever there are cases with a lot of international pressure, the Iranian officials are forced to speak on some level, forced to provide a proper trial.”

Secondly, the laws of Iran need to be changed, she said. “Iran is signatory to international conventions which forbid them to execute juveniles and yet they continue to do so,” said Afshin-Jam.

Fatehi echoed the concerns for others. “There are so many innocent inmates in prison but there is nothing that they can do. Many innocent people have beenin prison for … years, and still unsure of their cases’ outcome. Shahla Jaahed, Zahra and many others there were sentenced to death,” she said.

She raised the issue of Delara Darabi, 20, who was sentenced to death, like she was, at age 17. Darabi is an artist who has used paintings to express her feelings, and Afshin-Jam said the art will be featured on the new website.

As a result of the international pressure assembled in this case, the Iranian Head of Judiciary Ayatollah Shahroudi announced a stay of execution and new trial, which happened just weeks ago. Those five judges found “inconsistencies” with the testimonies of the witnesses and overturned the conviction.

The bail money was required because the court also concluded while Fatethi acted in self-defense, it ruled excessive force was used.

“Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the Charter of the Rights of the Child, which forbid the execution of persons under the age of 18, although Iran continues to do so. We must get to the root of the problem and put pressure on the Iranian officials to change the laws once and for all,” the artist said.

She said the issue is that Iranians had become accustomed to freedoms during the years before the violent revolution in which the Shah of Iran was overthrown and radical Islamics took control.

“It’s not a matter of convincing people [that freedom is good],” the artist said. “They want their fundamental rights and freedoms. They are counting on the international community to help them bring change and quality.

“I believe that they truly need the help and support of those from outside, to bring publicity, attention, worldwide attention, to human rights violations in Iran on a daily basis,” she said. “Seventy percent of the people in Iran are under the age of 30. They all want democracy, they want to elect the person that decides. They are so eager, yearning for this so hard.”

Afshin-Jam was born in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and shortly after her family fled, leaving all their worldly possessions behind, after her father had been jailed and tortured by the Revolutionary Guard.

Music always was a large part of the family’s life, and her debut album, “Someday,” is expected to be released in April. She sings in English, French and Persian.

During her college years she was a Royal Canadian Air Cadet and obtained her pilot’s license, while studying International Relations and Political Science in Canada, Great Britain and France.

She volunteered with the Red Cross to raise awareness on issues such as children affected by war, and entered the pageant to enlarge her platform.

For her work on the Iranian case, she was given the “Hero for Human Rights” award from Artists for Human Rights at the United Nations.

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