Joint US-Canada statement on Kian and other Americans and Canadians detained in Iran (Source: US State Department)

By , September 26, 2009 4:05 pm

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon issued a joint statement calling on Iran to safely and rapidly return Kian and all detained and missing foreign citizens to their respective countries:

“Canada and the United States are deeply concerned about the continued detention of Canadian and American citizens, including dual nationals, inside Iran and once again urge Iran’s leadership to positively resolve these cases as a humanitarian gesture and in accordance with their obligations under international conventions. Individuals in detention include Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari; Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh; retired Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi; and American hikers Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd. American Robert Levinson has also been missing in Iran since March 2007.

We call on the Government of Iran to provide American and Canadian detainees with immediate consular access, full legal rights and protection, and a complete and transparent account of the charges against them.

As we have stated in the past, we fully respect the sovereignty of Iran. At the same time, we seek the safe and rapid return of all detained and missing citizens in Iran to their respective countries so that they might be reunited with their families.”

[Link to statement]
[Link to September 25 State Department press briefing by Spokesman Ian Kelly]

Warnings Greet Latest Obama Overtures (Source: Wall Street Journal)

The Wall Street Journal has mentioned Kian in a story about the pros and cons of the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with nations accused of human rights abuses, particularly Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, China, Russia and Iran:

“UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration’s recent overtures to regimes with blemished records on human rights and democracy have potential long-term rewards but must first endure shorter-term risks, according to policy experts, leaders and activists.

Washington’s outreach to nations such as Iran and Myanmar — on display here this week — could leave the administration open to criticism that it is naïve or soft, while appearing to sideline human-rights concerns and legitimize uncooperative governments, they said.

“With constructive engagement…what you find is countries going for construction projects and no engagement,” said Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, in an interview in New York on Thursday. Mr. Anwar said “constructive intervention” was required…

Some Republicans and democracy advocates have criticized the Obama administration for increasing engagement with nations that have been accused of human-rights abuses, particularly China, Russia and Iran.

U.S. officials have defended outreach to those countries as part of an effort to achieve broad national-security goals: in Russia and Iran, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; in China, shoring up the global economy and curtailing global warming…

The approach emerging under the Obama administration — combining the threat of sanctions with renewed engagement — has been used effectively in various forms over the decades, from Apartheid-era South Africa to Communist Poland…

In South Korea and Japan, concerns that North Korea’s demand for talks with the U.S. could lead to a softening — and compromise their security — has dominated headlines and talk shows for several weeks.

A big risk of reaching out to leaders of repressive regimes is that it legitimizes their leaders, while undermining moderate or opposition elements. Ms. Suu Kyi on Thursday insisted that pro-democracy forces be part of the engagement process, her spokesman told the Associated Press.

In Iran, activists worry that if the U.S. and the West engage Iran over its controversial nuclear program, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters will be marginalized and compromises will be made on human-rights matters.

Mr. Obama has condemned the regime’s harsh crackdowns on opposition supporters but at the same time refrained from making human-rights issues such as the release of the American-Iranian scholar Kian Tajbakhsh a condition for talks.

Akbar Ganji, a prominent dissident and former journalist who was jailed in Iran and then fled to New York, says human rights should be the primary focus and condition for talks.

“We are very worried that if the U.S. sits down to negotiate with Iran they will only address the nuclear program for their own political gains and forget about human rights. Then the people of Iran will feel abandoned by the international community and lose hope,” Mr. Ganji said.

Others argue the U.S. will be more effective if it has an open channel for dialogue with Iran. “Then the U.S. has an active mechanism to put pressure on Iran’s government,” said Omid Memarian of Human Rights Watch.”

[Full article]

Iran’s Turmoil Has Its Day in New York (Source: New York Times)

By , September 23, 2009 2:51 am

Jim Dwyer’s “About New York” column in The New York Times features Kian:

Say what you will for the United Nations and its General Assembly. The sidewalk diplomacy almost never disappoints, and the stakes are always high.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is back in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Thousands of members of the Iranian diaspora plan to demonstrate on Wednesday to protest the crushing of dissent in Tehran since June, when Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed to have been re-elected president in a landslide.

One prominent member of that diaspora will certainly not be present: Kian Tajbakhsh, a New Yorker and an Iranian-American scholar who was seized by the Iranian security forces in early July and has been confined since then without access to counsel. He has been accused of stirring up revolutionary sentiment and of being an instigator paid by sinister Western forces.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, 47, and his wife and their young daughter were planning to move to New York this fall for a visiting professorship in urban planning at Columbia University.

Instead, he remains in secret detention, surfacing only occasionally in a mass trial where the official narrative holds that all protests in Iran since June are the creations of the United States and its wealthy allies. Perhaps most remarkable to his friends is that Mr. Tajbakhsh, a secular scholar, is being tried alongside Islamist reformers.

The official indictment against him is a haze of inference and inanity: He was raised outside Iran, in London and New York; his father was a member of the shah’s government; in prison, he had to be taught how to pray, apparently having a deficit of piety in his upbringing.

More: He worked as a consultant for the Open Society Institute, which is financed by the Soros Foundation, and which the Iranians purport is a C.I.A. satellite. He subscribes to a listserv run by Gary Sick, a Middle East scholar at Columbia who is described in the indictment as a C.I.A. agent. He discussed a book with another troublemaker.

Pictures released from the mass trial last month show Mr. Tajbakhsh reading statements that are supposed to implicate him and others in the uprisings.

Another Iranian-American scholar, Haleh Esfandiari, who was held two years ago in solitary confinement for 105 days, said that she learned from the interrogations that the Iranian security forces were gripped with paranoia about popular movements that have overthrown autocratic regimes elsewhere. In this worldview, Mr. Tajbakhsh’s Western education, dual citizenship in the United States and Iran and breadth of interests would make him an obvious conduit for subversion.

“What they are doing to him and the others is really shameful,” said Ms. Esfandiari, author of “My Prison, My Home.” “The good thing about Iran is that nobody — I mean nobody in the country — believes these confessions, and no one pays attention to these trials. Any intelligent person can conclude that he’s saying these things because he is forced to.”

During her confinement in 2007, Ms. Esfandiari got to know Mr. Tajbakhsh because he was being detained under the same circumstances, on the same vague charges of stirring up trouble. She was released in August that year. A few weeks later, Mr. Tajbakhsh was freed just before President Ahmadinejad arrived in New York for the General Assembly. Part of his schedule included a talk at Columbia.

In introducing Mr. Ahmadinejad, Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, noted that Mr. Tajbakhsh, a Columbia graduate, was still being held in house arrest.

“Let me say this for the record: I call on the president today to ensure that Kian will be free to travel out of Iran as he wishes,” Mr. Bollinger said. “Let me also report today that we are extending an offer to Kian to join our faculty.”

It would be nearly a year before Mr. Tajbakhsh was able to travel freely, so he was still in Tehran in June.

“No one expected there to be this historic popular uprising,” said Pamela Kilpadi, a colleague.

Now Mr. Tajbakhsh is back in prison, and President Ahmadinejad is back in New York.

“Academics and religious scholars,” he said during his 2007 visit, “are shining torches.”

This article was quickly translated and republished in Farsi with the heading “Ahmadinejad breaks promise to Kian” (not to rearrest him):

[Link to article]

Iranian Diaspora Heads for New York to Confront Ahmadinejad (Source: New York Times)

Nazila Fathi and Robert Mackey have written about Kian’s plight in The New York Times news blog:

“When Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rises to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, protesters who claim that he holds office only because of a rigged election plan to gather in large numbers outside the building…

The detainees who were arrested after the election have been hauled into court for televised mass trials, charged with plotting a “velvet revolution” to overthrow the regime. There have been no indications that they will be released soon.

Some of those still held, like Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, and Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker and journalist who reports for Newsweek, were apparently not involved in political activities.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, who was also arrested for three months in 2007, has been jailed since July 9. No formal charges have been brought against him, but a family member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that he has been kept in solitary confinement under watch by members of the Revolutionary Guards. When Mr. Tajbakhsh, looking frail and passive, appeared on state-run television during a mass trial of dissidents in late August, his two-year old daughter, Hasti, ran to kiss his image on the screen. His appearance led family members to fear that he is being drugged.

At least one political prisoner and the daughter of another high-profile prisoner, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president, have confirmed that the political prisoners have been forced to take drugs — blue pills, they reported, that are said to make them less resistant and more cooperative with their interrogators…”

[Full article]

Iran’s Khamenei signals easing in election tension (Source: Associated Press)

By , September 21, 2009 3:48 am

In a public speech, Iran’s Supreme Leader has questioned the validity of much of the ‘evidence’ presented at the Revolutionary Court show trials:

“Iran’s Supreme Leader warned government supporters on Sunday against accusing opposition members of wrongdoing without proof, an indication that the Islamic government may be easing up on critics of the June presidential election.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, said while a suspect’s own confession was admissible, his testimony or accusations could not be used to implicate others in the unrest following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
“We do not have the right to accuse without any proof,” Khamenei said in a speech marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in which he urged the judiciary and security forces to pursue offenders within the bounds of the law. The speech was carried live on Iran’s state radio and television.
“What a suspect says in court against a third party has no legitimate validity,” Khamenei said…
Khamenei’s latest comments could signal a change in the direction of the ongoing court cases against protesters.
Over the past months, state-owned television, news agencies and newspapers reported on five court sessions in which some detainees blamed opposition figures and their supporters of fomenting the postelection unrest…”

[Full article]

Iran’s Captives (Source: New York Times)

By , September 20, 2009 5:25 am

The editors of The New York Times are calling on Iran to release the five American citizens it has “unjustly and cruelly imprisoned”:

“Iranian diplomats are scheduled to sit down next month with diplomats from the United States and the other major powers. There is a lot to talk about, starting with Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Tehran is clearly eager to use the meeting to assert its rising influence and claim the respect it insists it has been too long denied.

The latter argument will be a tough sell, but if Iran’s leaders are truly serious about trying to change international and American opinion, they will have to start behaving like a responsible government. One immediate step they can take is to release the five American citizens they have unjustly and cruelly imprisoned.

Since July 31, Iran has been holding three American hikers who were seized along the Iran-Iraq border. Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were hiking in the Kurdish region of Iraq and their relatives concede that they may have accidentally crossed into Iran. But there can be no justification for their imprisonment.

Iran must release Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar… And it must free Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent missing since 2007. It is also holding Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek correspondent and Canadian documentary filmmaker. Justice demands that he be released.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, where he, too, will inevitably demand more respect for his country. Amid the wreckage of rigged presidential elections, the brutal crackdown on critics and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s repeated Holocaust denials, Iran needs to free these prisoners and allow the world some hope.”

[The full editorial incorrectly reports that authorities have not confirmed Kian’s arrest]:

A Test for Iran (Source: Washington Post)

By , September 16, 2009 3:50 pm

An op-ed published by the editors of The Washington Post today calls on the United States to demand that Iran release Kian, Maziar Bahari and other Western citizens within the context of official US-Iran engagement:

“THE OBAMA administration has chosen to support international negotiations with Iran next month in spite of Tehran’s declarations that it will not discuss its nuclear program. The White House says the United States and its five partners will insist on raising the U.N. Security Council’s demand for a suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment. Yet if engagement with Iran is to have any hope of success, at least one other item should be on the agenda: the government’s recent repression of domestic opposition, and in particular its prosecution of Western citizens.

Since August the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been staging show trials of some 140 politicians, civil society activists and journalists accused of trying to carry out a Western-orchestrated “color revolution” in Iran. The crudely staged cases are the latest phase in a coup by extremists, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, against more moderate factions that represent the majority of the country — and that include the proponents of a genuine rapprochement between Iran and the West. By opening talks with the Ahmadinejad clique, the international alliance risks strengthening the extremists’ hand in a fateful power struggle. If they win, the negotiations are doomed.

One way to avoid this pitfall is for the United States to insist on discussing the human rights issues raised by the show trials. The obvious lack of due process for leading regime opponents contravenes international human rights standards that Iran claims to respect. The cases of torture and rape of prisoners courageously documented by opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi should be as worthy of discussion as the non-nuclear subjects that Iran wants to bring up.

The United States and several other countries also have a direct interest in the cases of people with dual citizenship and embassy employees who have been swept up in the purge. These journalists, scholars and functionaries were not part of the opposition movement, but the regime is using them to bolster its claims that all of the opposition is part of a foreign conspiracy. Two cases that stand out are those of Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian American scholar, and Maziar Bahari, a Canadian American filmmaker and accredited correspondent in Iran for Newsweek magazine, which is published by The Washington Post Co.

Mr. Bahari was arrested at his mother’s home on June 21; Mr. Tajbakhsh was picked up July 9. Both have been denied access to consular officials or their own lawyers. At a ghastly “press conference” after his appearance at his trial Aug. 1, Mr. Bahari delivered statements echoing the regime’s propaganda about Western plots and the supposed role of journalists in them. Mr. Tajbakhsh, who was due to begin teaching at Columbia University this month, played no role in the opposition protests yet has been charged with being one of their planners.

There is an easy way for the Obama administration to test Iran’s seriousness about negotiations: It should demand that Mr. Bahari, Mr. Tajbakhsh, and other Western citizens being cruelly used as pawns in the regime’s domestic repression be immediately released and allowed to leave the country. Whether or not Mr. Ahmadinejad makes that simple concession will reveal whether the regime has any intention of mending relations with the United States.”

[Link to editorial]

A Plea From a Senator to Free Prisoners in Iran (Source: New York Times)

By , September 13, 2009 4:27 pm

U.S. Senator (D-Florida) Bill Nelson has written to the editors of The New York Times urging them not to forget to highlight the cases of American citizens imprisoned in Iran:

Free Maziar Bahari“(editorial, Sept. 9) rightly calls for an end to the unjust imprisonment of Maziar Bahari, the Canadian documentary filmmaker and Newsweek correspondent held since June by the Iranian authorities in their infamous Evin Prison…

Meanwhile, an Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, remains imprisoned and has been denied consular access.

You are to be commended for calling on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to free Mr. Bahari. I would also say to Mr. Ahmadinejad: put an end to the suffering of the Levinsons, Bauers, Shourds, Fattals and Tajbakhshes.”

[Full letter]

Khamenei Issues Warning to Iranian Opposition (Source: New York Times)

By , September 12, 2009 4:20 pm

Nazila Fathi of The New York Times, reporting on the Friday prayers speech delivered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at Tehran University, noted that:

“…Mr. Khamenei’s speech is a final warning to political leaders,” said one analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “He told the reformers, who claim they are loyal to the values of Khomeini, that he is also following him and would confront them in the same way that Khomeini confronted his opponents.”

Mr. Khamenei and his supporters have tried to portray the opposition and the protests as a plot by foreign enemies to stage a “velvet revolution” against the regime. More than a hundred former officials, activists and journalists are still in detention. Among them is an Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, and an Iranian-Canadian journalist, Maziar Bahari.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karroubi lashed out at the raid on his office and the arrest of his aides in a letter to the head of the judiciary late Thursday and said he would not be intimidated, his Web site Etemad Melli reported. “I am even more persistent than before now after the arrests and the intimidations,” he said, referring to his efforts to publicize charges of torture and rape…

Ayatollah Khamenei also stressed that Iran was not going to compromise over its nuclear program, adding the regime would not show weakness or retreat from what is considers its rights…”

[Full article]

Release Kian Tajbakhsh! (Source: New York Review of Books)

By , September 11, 2009 4:16 pm

The NYRB has published the petition calling for Kian’s release organized by the New School for Social Research and signed by Juan Cole, University of Michigan; Arien Mack, New School for Social Research; Steven Pinker, Harvard University; Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; and more than 1,000 others:

“We, the undersigned, are compelled to express our outrage at the arrest on July 9 of the noted Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh. Though not involved in the recent protests in Iran, Kian was arrested in his home by agents of the Iranian security police and is being detained in an unknown location.

Kian Tajbakhsh spent four months in prison in solitary confinement in 2007 on unspecified charges of trying to foment a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic regime. After his release from prison, Tajbakhsh decided to stay and work in Iran and deliberately avoided politics. We believe that Kian is again being held in solitary confinement and may be being tortured in order to extract a false confession.

We strongly deplore and condemn the detention and persecution of Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn his arbitrary detention, to call for his immediate and unconditional release, and to urge the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties to which Iran has long been a signatory.”

[Full article]

Three Columbia University leaders discuss Kian Tajbakhsh

By , September 10, 2009 2:24 am

Kenneth Prewitt
Vice-President for Global Centers and
Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs

Mark Wigley
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Robert Beauregard
Professor and Director of Urban Planning
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

“My Prison, My Home” book review (Source: Washington Times)

By , September 9, 2009 3:53 pm

The Washington Times has published a review of a book by Haleh Esfandiari mentioning Kian:

“…In “My Prison, My Home,” Ms. Esfandiari, a scholar, author and public intellectual who directs the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, recounts the story of her detention in Iran. From May 8, 2007, it included incarceration in the infamous Evin prison, where she remained for a total of 105 days until she was set free in late August and finally allowed to leave the country. Iranian authorities accused her of attempting to foment a velvet revolution as part of an American plot to overturn the regime and set about trying to extract information and an admission of guilt…

…The interrogations, humiliations and tedium of prison life and the threat of show trials had ended for her. One of the last things Ms. Esfandiari did before she left the Evin prison was to gather up a pile of books for return to her fellow prisoner, Iranian-American sociologist Kian Tajbakhsh. It was a signal that she was leaving. Later, he too would be released and return to a quiet life in Tehran.

But the incriminations and imprisonments go on. With the massive popular uprisings throughout the country protesting the fraudulent presidential election in June, hundreds were thrown into prison, and scores are undergoing show trials. Mr. Tajbakhsh, one of them, is back in prison and the victim of a show trial. Ms. Esfandiari’s finely wrought memoir – one woman’s story – gives us a window on a terrible and terrifying world and the trial by fire that some of our fellow human beings are forced to endure.”

[Full article]

Bollinger calls for release of detained Iranian scholar (Source: Columbia Spectator)

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has again called for Kian’s release:

“Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American urban planner who was supposed to teach at Columbia this semester, has been detained along with scores of dissenters and is on trial in Iran for fomenting a “velvet revolution.”

The U.S. Department of State and University President Lee Bollinger have called for the release of Tajbakhsh, a scholar who earned his Ph.D. in urban planning from Columbia…

In an August statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Tajbakhsh as a scholar “who has spent his career working to enhance mutual understanding between Iran and the United States.” Clinton added that “Iran should immediately release Mr. Tajbakhsh from detention and allow him to depart Iran to continue his academic pursuits.”

“We share the concerns expressed by the U.S. Department of State about the reported arrest of Kian Tajbakhsh and many others in Iran,” Bollinger said. “We concur in urging his release from detention and express our heartfelt support for his family, friends, and colleagues who are anxious over his wellbeing.”

[Full article]

U.S. scholar on trial in Iran (Source: The Washington Times)

By , September 7, 2009 8:31 pm

The Washington Times has published an article by Eli Lake highlighting Kian’s plight:

“Kian Tajbakhsh was supposed to be starting a prestigious professorship this month at Columbia University.

Instead, the Iranian-American urban planner is standing trial on allegations that he is one of the masterminds of the protests that followed Iran’s June 12 presidential elections.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, who served four months in an Iranian prison in 2007 on espionage charges, is not the most well-known American citizen arrested in recent years by Iran’s authorities, but he may be in the most jeopardy.

The government has accused him of fomenting a so-called “velvet revolution” — the sort of peaceful, mass political movement that ousted several Eastern European regimes two decades ago after the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, governments in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia.

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Tajbakhsh’s current detention are particularly serious, given the severity of the ongoing power struggle within the Iranian regime,” said Pamela Kilpadi, a friend who has been working on a book with the professor.

“[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard appear to be pitted against the clerical judiciary establishment, with Kian an innocent victim caught in between,” she said…

In the case of Mr. Tajbakhsh, his friends say he had very little to do with politics in Iran. Indeed, in 2007, Iranian courts did not convict him of such activities after his first arrest.

“Since his release from prison in 2007, the Iranian government has been heavily monitoring all of Kian’s activities,” Mr. Sadjadpour said. “They know better than anyone that they’ve imprisoned an innocent man. Unfortunately, Kian is simply a pawn in the hard-liners’ game of painting indigenous popular protests as somehow orchestrated from the outside.”

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was also jailed for four months in 2007, said the charges against Mr. Tajbakhsh are phony.

“I don’t understand why he was picked up,” she said. “He was not at all interested in this notion of the velvet revolution. This whole allegation and accusation is absurd. Having him do these confessions, nobody believes them. It’s just terrible.”

In her new book about her experience at Evin prison, “My Prison, My Home,” Ms. Esfandiari wrote that Mr. Tajbakhsh lent her English-language books — “Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene and “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky — while both were incarcerated in a special section for political prisoners.

“Getting those books from Kian was a godsend for me,” Ms. Esfandiari said.

For now, his friends and his future employer, Columbia University, are doing what they can to get Mr. Tajbakhsh freed. Kenneth Prewitt, vice president for global centers at Columbia, said the university made sure to call the urban planner’s mother in the United States and assure her that the professorship was still reserved for her son.

“Our interest in him is as an American scholar and not an activist,” Mr. Prewitt said. “There is no evidence that he has been engaged in political activity, and there is ample evidence that he has been engaged in serious academic work, which is the basis upon which we have offered him a professorship.”

[Full Article]

[Partial translation published by Iran’s official Asr Iran news agency]

President Bob Kerrey of The New School Makes Appeal for Kian Tajbakhsh’s Release

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