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opinion

Iran's jailing of Maziar Bahari, a journalist and filmmaker who lived in Canada for 10 years and became a Canadian citizen, carries echoes of a traumatic incident in Canadian-Iranian relations, the arrest and beating death in 2003 of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-born photojournalist from Montreal. There is little concrete that Canada can do that will actually have an impact, short of Prime Minister Stephen Harper making the case to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran. He should do so.

Nothing in the 42-year-old Mr. Bahari's background suggests a plotter or conspirator against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has distinguished himself as a journalist and a filmmaker, first in Canada, directing and co-writing (with the respected journalist Terence McKenna) a 1995 film for the National Film Board called The Voyage of the St. Louis, about the ship of Jewish refugees from Europe who were turned away from Canada in 1939. He returned to his homeland of Iran in 1998 and has since been a correspondent for Newsweek, and made several more documentaries.

His situation is serious. Iranian authorities do not appear to have formally charged him, but they allege that he has colluded with foreign powers to foment an uprising. An official Iranian news agency said Mr. Bahari, who was arrested on June 21, gave a news conference at which he purportedly said: "The activities of Western journalists in news gathering and spying and gathering intelligence are undeniable. ... I, too, as a journalist and a member of this great Western capitalism machine, either blindly or on purpose, participated in projecting doubts and promoting a ... revolution." There is no independent confirmation that he made these statements, or that if he did make them, he did so without having been coerced. He is being held as a scapegoat for the civil unrest that followed President Ahmadinejad's questionable victory with 63 per cent of last month's vote.

Of particular concern is that Saeed Mortazavi, the prosecutor who Ottawa believes supervised the torture of Ms. Kazemi, has been named to head the investigation into the activities of the many people detained in the unrest. (Ms. Kazemi had been arrested for taking pictures at a student protest outside Evin Prison in Tehran.)

Canada made little headway with Iran in Ms. Kazemi's case, even though it asked for little enough - her body to be returned for her son to bury in Montreal, and a fair and impartial investigation. Canada has had no ambassador in Iran since 2007, so whatever diplomatic voice it has is easily ignored. Because Mr. Bahari is an Iranian citizen, Iran considers him one of its own; it does not even have to grant consular access, and it hasn't. Mr. Harper should let Iran know the seriousness with which Canada views Mr. Bahari's plight.