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TAKING A STAND: Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Former Miss World Canada 2003, Struggles To Save Iranian Compatriot From Execution




It’s never easy to be a teenager anywhere in the world but it is certainly more difficult in Iran where an entire nation is subject to particularly harsh not to say absurd so-called Islamic laws meant to regulate all aspects of human life including the most intimate ones since the advent of Islamic Republic more than 27 years ago. It is not exaggerated to say that Iranian Women have since been subject to a form of sexual apartheid. For instance the price of the blood of a Woman, is worth half the price of that of a Man. A woman cannot become a Judge because they consider that she cannot be objective enough. Similarly the testimony of two Women is worth that of a single Man. Paradoxically however it is precisely Iranian women who are at the forefront of the struggle for social and judiciary justice in today’s Iran. The year 2003 seemed to smile to Iranian Women and raise hopes on a solution to their unfair predicament.  The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate was indeed attributed to a former Iranian Judge ( before the Revolution of 1979 ), now only lawyer ,Shirine Ebadi for her focus on human rights, especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children. Ms. Ebadi won from a record field of 165 candidates, including Pope John Paul and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Interestingly the same year Iranian born Nazanin Afshin-Jam was elected Miss World Canada 2003 and Miss World first runner-up. As if symbolically two generations of Iranian Women separated by the turmoils of revolution and exile were thus honored in the West, setting in their own respective ways an example for Iranian Women worldwide to look up to and particularly in their native country. Alas nearly three years after the situation of Iranian women has not considerably changed for the better. The radical laws continue to be prejudicial to Women and the presidential election of an Iranian radical fanatic Mahmoud Ahmaninejad (who seems to have single handedly invented in the Iranian community anti-Semitic militancy that was virtually inexistent in Persian society) has only encouraged his hard-line supporters to intensify their firm grip on the country’s judiciary. At the face of such rising intolerance in her native country Nazanin Afshin-Jam has chosen to take a stand for the predicament of an Iranian 18 year old namesake who is threatened by an imminent execution. Her crime? Having fatally stabbed to death in March 2005 one of three men who attempted to rape her as well as her 16 year old niece in a Park in Southern Tehran. During her trial Nazanin said “I wanted to defend myself and my niece. I did not want to kill that boy. At the heat of the moment I did not know what to do because no one came to our help”. She was nevertheless sentenced to the maximum punishment possible under the current law, death by hanging …

The former Miss World Canada, who considers that Nazanin is rather a victim than a criminal, is determined to help save the young teenager’s life and use her own International fame to draw attention on the teenager’s dangerous predicament. If nothing seems to ebb the determination of Afshin-Jam, a former Warrant Officer First Class of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and Political Science Student (*), and who has launched an online petition (See petition ) to support this cause, it is very much likely that the Iranian Judiciary carries out the sentence. This makes Afshin-Jam’s petition all the more important and her struggle to save her compatriot all the more urgent.

Darius KADIVAR (DK): Iran has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which it agreed not to execute anyone under age 18 ( Nazanin was 17 years old at the time of commission of the offense and therefore Iran is in breach ). How likely is it that this will be applied in Nazanin’s case?

Nazanin Afshin-Jam (NAJ):

Under the ICC and ICCR Iran is obliged not to execute anyone under the age of 18; however Amnesty International has recorded 18 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. In 2005 alone, at least eight executions of child offenders were recorded. This treaty may not be respected in Nazanin’s case because under Islamic based law in Iran, a woman can be executed over the age of 9 and a man over the age of 15.

DK: Do you have any news on Nazanin’s current situation? Have you been able to speak to her or to any relatives? Are they aware of your International campaign to save her?


We have been desperately trying to track down young Nazanin’s lawyer in Iran so that we can know what the next steps of action are to help save this young soul. It pains me to imagine where she is right this moment. Is she in a jail cell? Does she know that the international community has taken notice and cares? Does she know that people are fighting for her freedom? We don’t even have Nazanin’s last name and so it has been difficult trying to track her relatives as well. I am constantly checking with Amnesty International to find out if they have any new information. Any updates that I do have, I will post on my website at

DK:  Negar Azmudeh   — an immigration lawyer in Canada who focuses on human rights issues is helping you on a legal basis to alert the international community and help convince the Iranian judiciary. How successful have you been on this front this far?


Negar Azmudeh has been fantastic. She knows a great deal about Sharia Law and is very aware of the internal efforts of women in Iran fighting for their rights. She has been very helpful in vocalizing that this is purely a humanitarian effort and not a political one. We do not want to criticize the Iranian Government in a way that will hurt Nazanin’s chances of having her sentence commuted.


Left: Miss World Canada 2003 Nazanin Afshin-Jam campaigned to help for
Iran’s Bam earthquake victims the same year. ©CBC
Right: With 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi

DK: You were Crowned Miss Canada 2003 the same year as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Have you met her and has she tried to help you on Nazanin’s case?


Yes, I have met Shirin Ebadi on a couple of occasions. Through mutual connections I have been trying to contact her so that she may offer her perspectives and suggestions. It would definitely be an asset to have her legal input and experience. She has dedicated her life to these sorts of issues, and I look to her as a role model.

DK: You were born during or shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is quite rare to see Iranian Artists or public figures of the entertainment take a public stand in regard to Human Rights Issues in their country. What makes a second generation Iranian ex-pat like you with no particular connection with Iran anymore so concerned by Nazanin’s case and Human Rights in Iran in particular?


While I may be geographically separated from Iran, l feel quite emotionally connected. It is my birth place and my roots stem from this ancient country full of history. I refer to Iran as the Jewel of culture. When I heard of the injustice being imposed on young Nazanin, I was appalled. The most upsetting part for me was seeing the victim being tried as the criminal. This is not a case of one Iranian woman, this is a fight for what is JUST. This is a case of Women’s Rights. This is a case of HUMANITY. Iranians shouldn’t be the only ones concerned about the plight of this girl, the citizens of the world should stand up and take action on behalf of all “Nazanin’s” of the world.

Iranian America actor Anthony Azizi is also using
his popularity to support the Rights of Middle East Women


DK: Anthony Azizi the Iranian American actor in Popular TV series Commander in Chief has also been declaring on VOA that he hopes to use his fame to promote  Woman’s Rights particularly in the Middle East. Do you think Iranian Artists particularly those in the Diaspora should be more involved than they are today on such issues like Human Rights or Democracy in Iran?

NAJ:  We all have blessings and we must use them to help advance the world in any way we can. If you are an artist, paint a picture for those most vulnerable, if you are a singer, dedicate your song to the sick, if you are an architect get involved in a housing project for the poor. If you don’t have time, make time or donate money to those less fortunate. We all can give big or small. If Ex-pat Iranians are passionate about seeing a free and democratic Iran, then they shouldn’t just complain amongst friends; they must become active. If one is passionate about alleviating the landmine crisis then go after that. It doesn’t have to be Iranian for Iranian. It has to be Humanity for Humanity.

DK: Why isn’t there the same International mobilization for Human Rights in Iran as it has been the case in the past for lets say for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela whom you greatly admire?

NAJ: They are different issues; however I suppose racial apartheid has superseded “sexual apartheid” as you, Dariush, call it. There has been huge mobilization of women and men in Iran fighting for their rights. Internationally there have been huge campaigns to bring the plight of women to the forefront. Perhaps we are in the need of a great leader like Nelson Mandela to bring unity to the cause.

DK: Parallel to your activities, you are also undertaking a career as a singer. Your latest song SOMEDAY- (THE REVOLUTION SONG) seems very much inspired by your personal family experience. What message are you trying to convey through this song?

NAJ: Through my song Someday, I am trying to bring hope to anyone who has been a victim of injustice. It speaks to anyone who has had to flee their country because of political unrest. It sings to anyone who wants change. My family and many Iranians have been witness to a “Regressive Revolution”, I sing in hopes that “Someday we will find a way”. I dedicate this song to Nazanin and the other oppressed youth of Iran.

DK: According to the current Iranian law the life of a Women is worth half that of a Man. So according to this law had Nazanin’s aggressor killed her he would not be condemned to death, is that correct?  

NAJ: Yes, to my understanding a man would have to kill 2 women to get the same sentence as Nazanin.

DK: Your online petition has drawn a considerable amount of signatures from all over the world. How else can people concretely help Nazanin ?

NAJ: At the time of this interview there are 40 000 signatures and growing quickly. In addition to the petition, one can write personal letters to the UN, Iranian Officials, local members of parliament and local Iranian embassies. Inform your local media about the case of young Nazanin in Iran and ask them to post the petition link. Raise awareness in your schools, at your workplace and in your communities about Nazanin and others like her.  Send the story to everyone you know and post blogs. Get the word out! I will have constant updates on my website. Addresses to the Iranian Officials can also be found on my website

DK: Thank you Miss Afshin-Jam for your time and we truly wish you success in saving Nazanin.

Authors Notes:





Human Rights Complaints

Model Complaint Form
Petitions Team
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
+ 41 22 917 9022
(particularly for urgent matters)

Human Rights Committee

Committee against Torture


Nazanin is not alone, at least eight minors in Iran were hanged in 2005 in direct violation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For more information please visit the Amnesty International Site:


See Online Petition :

(*) Nazanin Afshin-Jam has a double major degree in International Relations and Political Science at UBC in Vancouver, L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris. She speaks in English, French, Persian and Spanish.

Official website of Nazanin Afshin-Jam :

Nazanin’s 12 song album will be released in July 2006. A sample of her music can be found at:

About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a freelance journalist and Paris based film editor of Namak Magazine LA/USA


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