Iran puts 16 protesters on trial (Source: Associated Press)

By , January 31, 2010 7:11 am

AP writer Nasser Karimi mentioned Kian in his summary of Iran’s latest show trial:

“TEHRAN – Iran put 16 opposition supporters detained during anti-government protests last month on trial Saturday on charges of rioting and conspiring against the ruling system, Iran’s state media reported…

The new prosecutions, coupled with the execution on Thursday of two men accused of involvement in anti-government groups, could mark an attempt by Iran’s hardline leaders to intimidate the opposition ahead of a new round of street demonstrations expected in February…

The protesters have presented Iran’s cleric-led establishment with its biggest challenge since the 1979 revolution despite a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds imprisoned…

During previous mass trials in Iran, many human rights groups have cautioned that..confessions are often made under duress in Iran…

Iran’s hardline government has quashed opposition rallies and tried more than 100 political activists since August, sentencing 11 people to death and more than 80 people to prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years…

Iran held its first postelection mass trial in August, accusing more than 100 activists of plotting to overthrow the regime. Those prosecutions brought charges against some prominent reformist opposition politicians, including former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh and the leader of the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Mohsen Mirdamadi.

There were also three foreign citizens — Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who holds Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and a 24-year-old French academic, Clotilde Reiss — among those on trial. Bahari has since been released on bail and has left the country.

Despite the crackdown, opposition activists have continued to hold sporadic, large street rallies. The opposition says Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June election was fraudulent and call for his removal — though some in the movement have expanded to criticize Iran’s clerical leadership.”

[Link to full article]

Kian’s birthday (Source: Family and Friends)

By , January 25, 2010 6:07 am

If you would like to send Kian a wish on his birthday or sign the online petition calling for his release, please do so here.

“Family and friends of Kian Tajbakhsh extend their love and best wishes to Kian on his birthday.”

Iran’s Post-Election Unrest is Now a Full-Blown Human Rights Crisis (Source: Human Rights Watch)

By , January 24, 2010 7:07 am

At a news conference in Dubai, the prominent international nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch released its new World Report 2010 and summarized human rights conditions in several countries in the region including Iran:

“Iran’s post-election crackdown following the disputed presidential elections on June 12 has turned into a human rights disaster, Human Rights Watch said. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Basij militia, and police arbitrarily arrested thousands of peaceful protesters and dissidents, including students, women’s rights activists, lawyers, and prominent human rights defenders in a clear effort to intimidate critics and stifle dissent. Government officials confirmed that as of November at least 30 protesters had died as a result of attacks by Basij and anti-riot police or in detention. At least seven more died in clashes on December 27, the holy day of Ashura. The actual number of deaths caused by government-sponsored violence is believed to be much higher.

“The systematic and brutal targeting of demonstrators and government critics by security forces shows that the regime’s crackdown is nothing but an attempt to silence voices of dissent,” [HRW's deputy Middle East director Joe] Stork said. “Iran’s post-election unrest is now a full-blown human rights crisis.” …

Beginning in August, the Judiciary staged show trials of hundreds of prominent reformers and activists allegedly connected with “rioters” attempting to promote a “velvet revolution.” During these trials, many of these dissidents gave televised confessions that appeared coerced. These confessions implicated the detainees in vaguely worded security crimes described in lengthy indictments filed by Revolutionary Court prosecutors. Some of those put on trial received lengthy prison terms and several were sentenced to death.

“The Iranian Judiciary’s show trials of hundreds of demonstrators and dissidents ranks among the most absurd displays of prosecutorial abuse I have witnessed in recent memory,” Stork said…

[Link to full report]

Faculty seek Hillary Clinton’s support in prisoner’s release (Source: Columbia Spectator)

By , January 13, 2010 3:21 pm

A group of Columbia University faculty members called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do everything possible to obtain Kian’s release:

“…Tajbakhsh, who earned his Ph.D. from Columbia, was supposed to teach at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation this year, but he was arrested last summer in Iran during the aftermath of the elections. He faces multiple charges of spying and being a threat to the national government…

…this Monday, Jan. 11, a group of faculty sent a letter to Clinton… The letter begins, “As members of the faculty at Columbia University, we wish to express our deep concerns for the well-being of Kian Tajbakhsh.” …
The letter also denounces Iran’s “pattern of harassment of scholars,” including Mohammad Maleki, the former chancellor of Tehran University. “Attacking and imprisoning scholars is a destructive and pernicious act that does not address the problems confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran, now or in the future,” it states.

“Everybody knows that the regime is using coercive repression on its critics inside of the country,” [Columbia political science professor and department chair Andrew] Nathan said. “This person [Tajbakhsh] is a scholar, who is coming to this university as a scholar and a teacher. He is not a politician. He hasn’t used violence. He is not a terrorist. He is using academic freedom, which should be protected.“

[Full Article]

Iran Ban Targets Some 60 ‘Seditious’ Western Groups (Source: RFE/RL)

By , January 13, 2010 3:18 pm

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has issued a list of 60 U.S. and international organizations that it accuses of inciting this summer’s post-election unrest and fomenting a “soft war” against the Islamic Republic:

“A deputy intelligence minister for international affairs, whose name was not given, accused the groups of working against the Iranian regime and said that contacts and cooperation with them were banned.

The unprecedented move appears to be part of the Iranian authorities’ efforts to isolate critics and activists inside Iran and prevent them from having any contact with the outside world.

Activists and opposition supporters say Iranian authorities have been intensifying efforts to limit the free flow of information in and out of Iran in the wake of mass protests against June’s disputed presidential election.

“Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has always been trying to prevent contacts between Iranians inside the country and international organizations,” says Faraj Sarkuhi, a prominent Iranian exiled writer and journalist. “In the past they accused the publication ‘Adineh,’ of which I was the chief editor, of espionage over contacts with International PEN [writers' organization] and said it is illegal.”

An extended list of the banned groups on the “gooya” news site includes: [Open Society Institute, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Yale University, RFE/RL's Radio Farda, the BBC, VOA, Radio Zamaneh], National Endowment for Democracy, National Republican Institute, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Search For Common Ground Organization, New American Foundation, British Center for Democratic Studies, East European Democratic Center, MEMRI, U.S. National Defense University, The Smith Richardson Foundation, and Brookings Institute.

The intelligence official said that contacts and cooperation with these organizations are banned.

Tini van Goor, director of the human rights department at Hivos, a Dutch NGO among those named, rejected the Iranian authorities’ charges.

But he also said the move came as no surprise, since Hivos — which has worked on women’s rights and HIV/AIDS issues with local civil society groups in Iran — had faced similar accusations in state media in recent years.

“It is simply nonsense what they say that we have an agenda of regime change or whatever,” he told RFE/RL. “No – what we did was being in contact with civil society activists. And those activists, some of them are also activists in the time of the post-election discussions in Tehran. But it is their choice.”

A prominent Tehran-based professor of law, Mahmud Akhundi, told Radio Farda that the Intelligence Ministry’s list and warning have no legal basis.

“It is in clear contradiction with human rights principles and with international principles of law. It doesn’t even have any Sharia-based justification,” Akhundi said. Nobody has the right “to define an action that has not been defined previously as a crime, as being criminal,” he added.

Writer Sarkuhi said he thinks the list could be used against those arrested in the postelection crackdown, which intensified after violence broke out during the Shi’ite commemoration of Ashura on December 27, leaving at least eight people dead.

The Intelligence Ministry “is making such a big claim at a time when Iranian authorities are getting ready to issue heavy sentences against arrested protesters; they want to use it to justify the heavy sentences that are likely to be issued,” Sarkuhi said.

In late November, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran was facing a “soft war” with its enemies abroad, who were fomenting the street protests that hit the country following the disputed June 12 vote.

Many of those arrested in the postelection crackdown have been accused of being involved in a “soft coup” against the Iranian clerical establishment.

Among those arrested and sentenced to jail is a well-known Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, who used to work as a consultant with Soros’ Open Society Institute. His family and colleagues have rejected all the charges against him as baseless…”

[Full article]

[Related article]

Interview with lawyer for Kian Tajbakhsh (Source: VOA-PNN)

By , January 13, 2010 3:11 pm

Kian’s lawyer Massoud Shafie discussed his client’s case in this television interview:

Jailed Iranian-American Faces 15 Years In Iran Prison (Source: NPR)

By , January 13, 2010 3:06 pm

National Public Radio (NPR) has posted a transcript of their story profiling Kian’s case:

Listen to the story

“Scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was supposed to teach at Columbia University this fall. But he’s been detained in an Iranian prison since the summer, when he was arrested in the aftermath of Iran’s presidential elections. In October, Tajbakhsh was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Now friends, family and fellow academics are calling for his release. NPR’s Jacki Lyden has this profile.

SCOTT SIMON, host: We now turn to human rights in Iran, which has been holding thousands of people since the June 12th election, including an Iranian-American, a 47-year-old Columbia University scholar who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for espionage. This week, NPR’s Jacki Lyden spoke to people close to him.

JACKI LYDEN: Right now, Kian Tajbakhsh should be wrapping up his first term teaching at Columbia’s School for Architecture, Preservation and Planning. He was to begin earlier this year on the eighth of September. Instead, the school’s dean, Mark Wigley, spoke out about the imprisoned scholar.

Mr. MARK WIGLEY (Dean, Columbia University): In fact, he was due to start teaching this very day. It is therefore extremely painful to see him arrested and imprisoned.

LYDEN: It would’ve been a great reunion. Tajbakhsh earned his Ph.D. at Columbia more than 15 years ago, as his mother, Farideh Gueramy, told us on the phone from Tehran.

Ms. FARIDEH GUERAMY: One could say that he became a New Yorker. He would enjoy the culture there. He would enjoy Woody Allen movies and we would talk about all the different diversity, diverse group in New York City.

LYDEN: In 1998, Kian Tajbakhsh returned to Iran for the first time in 20 years. His mother had brought him to the U.S. when he was a four-year-old.

Ms. GUERAMY: My son, most of the time, would criticize me that I brought him out of Iran when he was young, four years old, and I deprived him from his language, his culture. And he always wanted to go back to Iran. He loved Iran, he loved the Persian language and he loved the poetry, he loved Persian music, and he had start actually teaching himself the language.

LYDEN: Kian Tajbakhsh moved back to Iran in October of 2001. He married and had a daughter. What he saw as an era of openness was in fact the beginning of the end of the kind of expanded civil society that Iranians had been enjoying in a reform era. After the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, liberty began to vanish. Paranoia crept in.

In 2007, Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested for the first time. At Evin Prison, he discovered he wasn’t the only Iranian-American scholar there. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, was there too.

Ms. ESFANDIARI: They would take us together for interrogation. He usually would walk ahead of me and we were both blindfolded. So when the interrogator would refer to him as Mr. Doctor – (foreign language spoken) – so I knew that Kian was walking ahead of me down the stairs being blindfolded, and I would look down and see his slippers.

LYDEN: After her release, Haleh Esfandiari left Iran and wrote a book, “My Prison, My Home.” But Kian Tajbakhsh stayed on, writing about urban planning. Then came the presidential election of June 12th, 2009. It changed everything for Iranians. After the mass protest following the disputed election, thousands were rounded up and sent to prison.

Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested a second time, on July the 9th, and he found himself accused, says Haleh Esfandiari, by a government determined to cast him as a part of a velvet revolution.

Ms. ESFANDIARI: I know that they had convinced themselves that there is a plot through soft means to overthrow the regime. And the moment they saw the Green movement, members of the Green movement in the streets of Tehran, it reminded them of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia. And they thought that’s it, so therefore we have to once and for all try and stop it.

Little did they know that this was an indigenous movement. When the people came out into the street, all they wanted – they didn’t want an overthrow of the regime on June 13th or 14th. They wanted their votes to be counted. And then gradually, you know, it turned into this mass movement which they can’t even contain today.

LYDEN: Last summer, Tajbakhsh was put on trial along with a hundred others. He was sentenced in October to 15 years in prison, and in November, he was hit with still more charges. His lawyer, Massoud Shafie, spent an hour and a half with Kian at the prison on Thursday and has seen his file. He says it contains video clips of public demonstrations that Tajbakhsh allegedly emailed. The lawyer says that’s certainly not espionage and that the charges against his client are baseless.

Mr. MASSOUD SHAFIE (Attorney): (Through translator) I have reviewed the file in detail. I believe from a legal standpoint there’s no correlation between the evidence in his file and the conviction and sentencing.

LYDEN: Still, Kian’s mother, Farideh Gueramy, says she’s optimistic that this will be over soon. Yet another irony: Kian Tajbakhsh is affiliated with Columbia University, the very institution that took so much heat over inviting a controversial guest to speak there in 2007. That was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran.

Now, students and professors are focusing their petitions, speeches and videos on their colleague.

Mr. MARK WIGLEY: I therefore respectfully but passionately urge that Kian Tajbakhsh should be released and returned to his academic community here at Columbia University.

LYDEN: And they have vowed to keep his name before the public.

Jacki Lyden, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: To learn more…go to our Web site, NPR.org/soapbox.

You’re listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.”

[Full transcript]

Interview: Embassy Hostage-Turned-U.S. Envoy Compares ’79 To Iran Today (Source: RFE/RL)

By , January 6, 2010 7:04 am

Senior State Department official John Limbert commented in an interview on the cases of Americans detained in Iran including Kian:

RFE/RL: Three U.S. hikers are [currently] detained in Iran. An Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbaksh, has been sentenced to a heavy prison term over the postelection unrest. And the family of a former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, who disappeared during a trip to Iran, believe that he’s still held there. What is the U.S. doing for these people? And how hopeful are you that they could be released in the near future?

Limbert: We are engaged in a lot of efforts, but for reasons that are obvious to you, I can’t give you details.

But we are in constant contact with countries that can influence this and can help. We believe that these are considered humanitarian issues and not political ones. We were hoping that some of them would be released for Christmas and New Year, but it didn’t happen.

We’re hoping that the Islamic Republic will release them in a humanitarian gesture and not treat [people] who merely exercised their rights in this manner.”

[Link to full article]

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