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In 1993, Houshang Bouzari was detained by Iranian officials and tortured. After his family was forced to pay to secure his release from jail, Bouzari eventually managed to escape Iran and join his family in Vienna. They moved to Canada in 1998. In 2000, he filed a lawsuit against the state of Iran seeking to hold that government accountable for his torture. The case was dismissed under Canada’s State Immunity Act which provides immunity to governments in most civil lawsuits. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the allegations of torture were not enough to overcome Iran’s immunity.
Following the courts’ application of immunity to the government of Iran, Houshang Bouzari re-filed his case against the individuals he considered responsible for his torture. In 2011, the court found that one of the defendants, Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of the former Iranian president, did not have immunity and granted Bouzari judgment against him. It then came to light that Mehdi was admitted to Oxford University under controversial circumstances. However, in April 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that Bouzari’s case should be dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens because the UK was a more appropriate venue for the case.
Mark Arnold, a member of CCIJ’s Advisory Committee, and David Matas, a former member of CCIJ’s Board of Directors, represented Bouzari in the initial suit against Iran. CCIJ has been heavily involved in efforts, through both litigation and law reform, to overcome the immunity issues that arose in Bouzari’s case.