Canadian Hamid Ghassemi-Shall lost his brother and may have lost his own life in an Iranian prison.
Instead, a healthy dose of human rights activism from a grassroots level — including Amnesty International chapters such as the one in Moose Jaw — compelled government officials in Canada to take note of Ghassemi-Shall's case and push for his release.
He was released by Iranian authorities in late September and returned home to Toronto on Thursday.
"Amnesty members in Moose Jaw, like members right across the country, played an important role in writing letters — both to the Canadian government and the Iranian government — and in taking part in various actions over the years which showed solidarity with Hamid's wife (Antonella)," Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, told the Times-Herald Friday.
Ghassemi-Shall was arrested in 2008 while visiting his mother in Iran. He, along with his brother Alborz, was charged with espionage. His brother died in captivity.
Ghassemi-Shall was sentenced to death in 2009.
"Five years was a long time. It was a particularly long time in Hamid's case, because he was facing the possibility of execution," said Neve. "It wasn't simply five years of imprisonment in Iran, which would be arduous and frightening enough on its own.
"To have to go through that when there was a constant possibility of execution hanging over his head was obviously terrifying for him, and it's why it became such an urgent concern for us," he said.
Neve said the triumph in this particular case is one Amnesty International Canada workers at every level can take pride in.
"So many people within Amnesty International Canada, at all levels and in all corners of the country, took up his case very seriously and worked hard on it," he said. "So I think people feel not just the great joy about knowing that a situation of serious human rights (violations) has come to an end, but a sense of pride in knowing they played a role in that outcome.
Five years was a long time. It was a particularly long time in Hamid's case, because he was facing the possibility of execution. Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
"In human rights work, day after day, we're confronted with a lot of tragedy and fear and bad news. When we have moments like this which are just all about the good news — they really are these remarkable moments of triumph — it's a tremendous moment for people, and the energy they draw from something like that will then go to fuel human rights work in many other cases," Neve added.
Speaking specifically of the Moose Jaw chapter of the organization, he said, "Moose Jaw is a stellar example of what is the very best in Amnesty International.
"There's a tremendous group of committed individuals who have for many years been working, be it on individual cases such as Hamid's or bigger issues such as trying to respond to concerns about violence against indigenous peoples in Canada … and who have done so tirelessly, because they recognize it is their responsibility to do so," he said. "That is the very backbone of what has made Amnesty International so strong right around the world over these past 52 years.
"It's those voices coming from corners of the world like Moose Jaw who, coming together, have been behind some of the most significant human rights breakthroughs of the past several decades," said Neve.
Neve will visit the Friendly City for the second annual Saskatchewan Regional Conference at Zion United Church on Oct. 19, where he will be featured as the keynote speaker.
The event is open to members of the public who are interested in human rights.