Iran Keeps Daughter of Abused Colombian Woman Trapped in Embassy

October 6, 2016


The government of Iran has refused to hand over the 6-year-old daughter of Colombian national Sandra Meneses, who tricked her Iranian husband into a “vacation” back to her hometown of Cali in order to escape the myriad abuses she had endured while living with him in Iran.


According to Colombia’s RCN news, Meneses had told her Colombian family she was returning home to stay but told her husband, who has not been named, that she was hoping the three of them could vacation in the South American country. Once there, “the woman told him that she would never return to [Iran],” RCN notes. “The man took his daughter and fled to the Iranian embassy in Bogotá,” the outlet adds, calling the abduction an “act of revenge.”

The Iranian government has flatly refused to return the child to her mother. In a statement to RCN, an official at the embassy noted that all three individuals are seen in the eyes of Iranian law as Iranian citizens. “As such, this embassy supports all Iranian citizens without reservations,” the statement read.


Iran is not a signatory to any international legal conventions regarding parental abduction. As the nation is governed by strict Sharia law, fathers have significantly more control over their children than mothers. “The terminology of ‘parental abduction’ does not exist in Iranian laws; nevertheless, hampering custody orders by one of the parents or a third party has civil and criminal aspects punishable by punitive damages and imprisonment,” the Library of Congress notes, adding, “A parent cannot and should not be deprived of his/her custody or visitation rights, unless due to a legal necessity, and by a court order.” Spousal abuse complaints from a wife are rarely taken as a “legal necessity” that would require the child to be taken away from a father.

RCN notes that Meneses fears being treated as an Iranian citizen by the government there because of the ill treatment women receive in that court system. Carolina Zambrano, a cousin of Meneses’s, told the outlet, “the consequences she may face from the moment she stood up to her husband, because of their religious traditions, are that she could lose her life.”

Colombia is a particularly attractive hub for Middle Eastern immigrants in Latin America. It boasts a robust Lebanese and Syrian population and its cities are home to a healthy Iranian population. Iran appears to have seen an opportunity for expanding its influence in the region, sending Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on a Latin American tour in August.

While the Iranian government has overtly courted business in the region, the terrorist outfit Hezbollah, which Iran supports financially, has cemented its ties with many drug trafficking and terrorist operations in the region, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Iranian “cultural centers” have also served to promote both Iranian political interests and Shiite Islam throughout Latin America, largely depending on the warm diplomatic ties with the socialist dictatorship in neighboring Venezuela.

The outreach appears to have worked: the Muslim population of Latin America and the Caribbean grew nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Iran is a prolific employer of the death penalty, particularly against women who violate Sharia law. The NGO Safe World for Women lists the crimes punishable by death for women in Iran: adultery, lesbianism, murder, and “moharebeh,” a vague law that’s meaning can be translated as anything from “heresy” to “working to undermine the Islamic system” or “cooperating with foreign agents.” It is possible that Meneses’s husband may employ this last charge given Meneses’s use of the Colombian legal system and media to attempt to escape spousal abuse.

Iran has exacerbated its use of the death penalty in recent years. Amnesty International described the use of capital punishment as “extensive” between 2015 and 2016, noting that the government provides for such inhuman execution methods as stoning and relies on “vague charges” and unfair trials to determine whom to execute. A particularly egregious execution season occurred during the first half of 2015, when nearly 700 people were killed.

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Mother pleads for Canada to bring back children taken to Iran

August 16, 2016


Alison Azer wants federal government to help bring her four children home after their father took them to Iran in alleged abduction.


Alison Azer has not seen or spoken to her children in one year.

And now the Canadian mother of four is pleading with the federal government in Ottawa to bring her children home after their father took them out of the country last August and never returned.

“Today it just feels like such a tragic day and I’m so very disappointed to have to get to this point and for my children to have to get to this point,” Alison told Middle East Eye in a telephone interview on Monday, which marked exactly one year since her children were taken from Canada.

Alison said that she has not even been able to speak to her four children – Sharvahn, 12, Rojevahn, 10, Dersim, seven, and Meitan, four – since they left the country.

At the time, Alison said she believed the children were going on a holiday to Europe with their father, Saren Azer, who shared joint custody with Alison after the couple’s divorce.

But what was meant to be a two-week holiday has turned into a year-long nightmare.

“They can’t rescue themselves and I can’t do this alone,” said Alison, who has launched the website, “I really, really need the government to work with me to bring the Azer children, my children, back to Canada.”

Interpol red alert

Saren Azer, an Iranian citizen of Kurdish background who moved to Canada in the mid-1990s, said he wanted to take his children on holiday to Europe in August 2015, Alison said.

A BC court granted him specific permission to travel to France and Germany with the children provided that he check in with Alison every 48 hours and return to Canada on 22 August.

A day before the children were scheduled to return, however, Canada’s federal police (RCMP) alerted Alison that they had been abducted. They were seen in Germany in mid-August 2015 and they were later believed to have flown to Sulaimaniyah, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, with their father.

A trained physician and Kurdish rights activist, Dr Azer regularly went to Iraqi Kurdistan to provide medical care and humanitarian support for internally displaced persons in the area. On 21 August 2015, the Supreme Court of British Columbia issued an order requiring the children be returned to Canada immediately, and a few days later on 24 August 2015, the RCMP obtained a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Azer.


International police agency Interpol also issued an arrest order for him on charges of “abduction in contravention of custody order” at the Canadian authorities’ request.

“We understand how difficult this situation is for the children’s mother and others in the community. We will continue our efforts at home and abroad to locate and safely return these children to British Columbia,” the RCMP in Comox Valley, the area of BC the family lives, said in a statement at the time.

In June 2016, the RCMP confirmed that Azer had reached out to assure police “that the children are safe” and to answer questions posed by investigators.

“The RCMP is mindful that cases of this nature are very emotional. We are hopeful that the dialogue will continue so that a resolution can be found in this parental abduction investigation,” the RCMP statement read.

MEE’s request for additional comment from the RCMP in Comox Valley was not immediately returned on Monday.

Hundreds abducted annually

The Canadian government says hundreds of children are abducted and held in a country outside of Canada by a parent or guardian each year.

Parents found to have removed a child under age 14 from Canada against an existing custody order, or in violation of another custody rights agreement, constitute grounds for criminal prosecution. Such crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction – the main international treaty that governs international child abductions – aims to ensure the prompt return of children under the age of 16 that have been wrongfully removed from their primary place of residence. The convention is in force in about 90 countries, but Iran is not on that list.

Ottawa also does not currently have formal diplomatic ties with Tehran; relations were severed under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which makes the process of negotiating the children’s return all the more complicated.

Alison said she has been in touch with the RCMP and Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign affairs department, about the case. But the process, she said, has been full of “a tremendous amount of confusion [and] misinformation”.

“I don’t know who is leading this, who is accepting accountability; it changes pretty much week to week,” she said.

Her claims that Canadian officials did not respond when Iranian authorities contacted them following Azer’s detention in Iran on child abduction charges in June have been denied by Ottawa.

“The Iranian authorities never reached out to Canada when they brought Mr Azer in for questioning,” Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told The Globe and Mail.

Francois Lasalle, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the government has been actively engaged on the Azer children’s case since it began, and holds their safety and wellbeing as a high priority.

“Officials in Ottawa and several of our offices abroad have spent hundreds of hours working to find a resolution to this very complex family case,” Lasalle said in an email.

He said that while Canada faces challenges due to its lack of diplomatic presence in Iran, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken with his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, about the Azer case because “Italy acts as Canada’s protecting power in Iran”.

“The government of Canada appreciates the assistance we have received from the Italian government,” Lasalle said.

The story of four little kids’

Meanwhile, Alison said she had hoped that she and her ex-husband could have co-parented in the best interests of their children, including teaching them about their dual Kurdish-Canadian heritage.

Instead, she said he put the children at risk by breaking Canadian laws.

“This is not a story of East versus West,” she said. “This is not a story of Islam versus the rest of the world, or fathers versus mothers, men versus women. This is the story of four little kids who – at no fault of their own – have been taken away from everything that was familiar to them and safe for them.”

Alison said she would continue to do everything she can to bring her children home safely, and urged Ottawa to do the same.

“It’s really, really important for my children and for all other kids that might be at risk of being abducted that the government of Canada shows leadership and responsibility to its citizens … and it just hasn’t done that yet.”

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Canadian diplomats stalled negotiations on freeing children abducted to Iran, mother says

June 2, 2016

Source: national post

Canadian diplomats stalled negotiations on freeing four children abducted by their father and taken to Iraq because they wanted to first wait for a legal opinion on whether they could hold discussions with the terrorist organization sheltering the group.

Saren Azer.png

The delay of up to five months allowed Saren Azer, wanted by the RCMP for child abduction, to leave Iraq and flee to Iran with the youngsters, says the children’s mother, Alison Azer.

Comox Valley RCMP said Saren Azer has contacted its investigators to assure them the children are safe, according to The Canadian Press, and talks continue in a bid by police to confirm they are indeed safe. A spokeswoman said the investigation is “very active and ongoing.”

Alison Azer believes her ex-husband is in Iran and contends his background with political groups that support the Kurdish independence movement means he and her children are not safe in the country. His past affiliation with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran could be considered treason, she said.

“I think that it’s a positive step that he’s reached out to authorities,” she said. “He is an international fugitive, and he’s in a country where the signs are that increasingly they are not very happy to have him there because of his political history.”

She said she’s waiting to see how his conversations with the RCMP unfold and she has promised all along to do what she can to ease his re-entry to Canada.

Dr. Saren Azer originally fled to northern Iraq in August 2015 and was living in territory controlled by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist group, better known as the PKK.

By October, Canadian diplomats knew the precise location of Azer and the four Canadian children but wanted to get a legal opinion on the ramifications of discussing with PKK officials the return of the youngsters.

By the time that opinion came earlier this year, Azer had fled to Iran with the children. “They (diplomats) wasted precious time that could have been used to get my children back,” said Alison Azer, Saren’s former wife.

Her lawyer unsuccessfully tried to obtain a copy of the legal opinion provided to Global Affairs Canada.

Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Tania Assaly said the Canadian government remains deeply concerned for the well-being of the children and is pursuing their safe return. “The government of Canada does not discuss publicly the legal advice it receives,” she noted in an email.

It is unclear whether diplomats ever contacted PKK officials about arranging the release of the youngsters.

Alison Azer has been asking the Canadian government to ensure the safe return of her children: 11-year-old Sharvahn; Rojevahn, nine; Dersim, seven; and Meitan, three. In August, the RCMP issued an arrest warrant for Saren Azer on charges of abduction after he failed to return from a trip to Europe with the children.

Dr. Azer and the children, originally from Comox, B.C., are currently living in the city of Mahabad in northwestern Iran.

Saren Azer Abducted.png

Mahabad is Azer’s home city and where his mother, four brothers and four sisters live.

But Azer’s return to Iran raises new questions about his refugee claim that prompted Canada to award him citizenship. After arriving in Canada in 1994, he denounced the Iranian government and claimed his life was in danger if he were ever to return to that country. Azer also claimed to have been tortured by the Iranian government.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, however, alleged Saren was linked to the PKK terrorist group.

Azer denied that and government officials ignored the spy agency’s concerns and granted him citizenship.

Alison Azer said she originally admired and supported her ex-husband’s efforts to help Kurdish refugees. But the two separated more than three years ago after Saren became increasingly strident in his views regarding Islam. Alison also voiced concern about his involvement with the PKK.

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