NEW YORK—Set against the backdrop of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad address at the United Nations General Assembly, former Miss Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam stood across the street at a rally earlier this week in an appeal to raise awareness of the 139 minority children scheduled for execution in her native country of Iran.
Two years ago, Nazanin rescued a 17-year-old Iranian girl convicted of murder and set for execution for killing a man who had attempted to rape her.
Nazanin, after hearing the girl’s story through a friend, was compelled to act after learning the girl shared her name. Through her popularity and star power, Nazanin shed light on the young Nazanin’s story, eventually getting a stay of execution and her eventual release.
Since then, Nazanin Afshin-Jam has made an effort to draw attention to other human rights violations around the world, such as leading events about child executions, and recently, events related to human rights issues in China regarding the persecution of Tibetans and the genocide and organ harvesting of Falun Gong.
A former beauty queen and Miss Canada 2003, Nazanin has resided in Canada most of her life, yet the story of her compassionate heart began with her father’s serendipitous flight from Iran after the Islamic Revolution.
Her father, Afshin Afshin-Jam, a hotel manager in Tehran, was arrested for playing music and serving alcohol in the hotel.
Afshin shared his experience: “The following night I was set for execution. Judge Khalkhalei, who was very well known for his brutal rulings, that particular night, thank god, he had an accident coming from Kharesh to Tehran.”
Family and friends appealed for his release, eventually succeeding, and at the first opportunity, Afshin-Afshin Jam boarded a flight and met his family, including his daughter Nazanin, in Spain.
A year later, they would settle in Vancouver, where Nazanin was nurtured with loving and caring parents. This became the foundation for her human rights work.
While she would enter and win the Miss Canada pageant, her actions were more selfless than readily seen.
“I tried to use all my blessings to advance human rights in whatever way I can,” said Nazanin. “The only reason I entered the Miss Canada competition is to gain a platform to speak on some of these human rights issues, ” she added.
A platform she would gain, helping to save the life of the seventeen-year-old Nazanin.
Afshin-Jam still speaks with her today and does her best to help support her.
“We speak once a month, and more recently we speak more frequently because we want to compile her story into a book, and if we are able to sell the book, the money from the book will be able to sustain her,” she said. “She is happy to be free… she feels so bad about all the other prisoners. She has dreams to become a lawyer one day.”
Nazanin was critical of the Iranian President and the Islamic regime as she appealed outside the UN headquarters, yet the focus, as with most of her work, was centered on human right violations. In regards to Ahmadinejad, she said, “The fact that he is speaking today at the UN as a dignitary, it legitimizes him, and what we are saying is he is not true leader of Iran, neither is Ali Khameini.”
Nazanin also criticized Iran's human rights abuses and praised the UN bringing to light these abuses.
“This event was set up in a way to tell the world community that from the true Iranian voices what is taking place in Iran in term of human rights abuses," she said, "and the things we have concentrated on, is execution of minors and adults alike, and stonings, and the discrimination of women, and we talked about the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.”
Nazanin was optimistic that these abuses wouldn't be ignored by Iranians.
“The larger fold, I hope one day, someday, the Iranian community will unite in a way where we can stand strong under a banner of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, separation between religion and state, but to get there, a few steps have to come before that,” she said.
Nazanin says she will continue to focus on human rights issues, while also using art as way to channel her efforts for violations around the world. She will soon star in a film titled “Mona’s Dream.,” which, Nazanin said, is “about a girl in Iran who was executed because of teaching Baha’i classes.”
Nazanin's art and beauty will be the platform to draw attention to the issue of human rights, once again.