An Iranian-Canadian man recently freed after spending four years on death row in a Tehran prison is back in Canada.
Hamid Ghassemi-Shall arrived in Toronto on Thursday afternoon, greeted by his wife and friends holding balloons and flowers. A representative of Amnesty International, which advocated for his release, was also at the airport.
“It’s great to be home, to my real home,” Mr. Ghassemi-Shall said over the phone from his home in east Toronto. “I’m trying to get my life back together from where I left 64 months ago.”
Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who was a shoe salesman in Toronto, was arrested in May, 2008, while visiting his elderly mother in Iran. Convicted of espionage and sentenced to death in 2009, Mr. Ghassemi-Shall said he remained hopeful he would be cleared and released one day.
He was unexpectedly freed last month, pardoned after serving a reduced five-year sentence. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall was one of about 80 political prisoners freed by Iran on the eve of a United Nations gathering in New York.
The gesture by Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani was seen as an olive branch to the United States. While Mr. Rouhani and President Barack Obama did not meet in person at the UN meetings in September, the pair spoke over the phone for 15 minutes, the first such interaction between leaders of the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
The Iranian government has agreed to hold new talks on its nuclear program. However, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has warned Iran’s diplomatic overtures are more show than substance.
Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who immigrated to Canada after Iran’s revolution, said his next steps will include looking for work and healing from his ordeal, which included months of solitary confinement. He was elated to see his wife, Antonella Mega, who campaigned tirelessly for his release.
“I got the whole world in my hands,” he said of their reunion, his voice sounding weary from the long day.
His wife sounded overjoyed.
“For a second, it felt like no time had gone by, and then I saw him better, and the time on his face,” Ms. Mega said. “We’re just rejoicing.”