Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Iranian-Canadian death row prisoner back in Canada

Undated photo of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a Canadian citizen among a batch of political prisoners released by Iran ahead of a UN speech by Iran President Hassan Rouhani.

Amnesty International

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."

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

"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."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to