Posts tagged: Iran Arrests

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]

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

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)

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,

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

[Full transcript]

وکیل کیان تاجبخش: در پرونده هیچ مستند جاسوسی وجود ندارد

By , December 16, 2009 9:48 am

۲۳ آذر ماه ۱۳۸۸ – کمپین بین المللی حقوق بشر در ایران پس از مصاحبه با مسعود شفیعی؛ وکیل تاجبخش، اعلام کرد که پرونده کیان تاجبخش؛ جامعه شناس ایرانی – آمریکایی فاقد هر گونه مستندی در اثبات ادعاهای وارده علیه وی است.

کیان تاجبخش  در دادگاه بدوی به ۱۵ سال زندان به اتهام جاسوسی و اقدام علیه امنیت ملی محکوم شد و در حال حاضرپرونده وی در مرحله تجدید نظر است. دادرسی کیان تاجبخش بخاطر نقض گسترده آئین دادرسی قوانین ایران و معیارهای بین المللی اساسا فاقد اعتبار است.

مسعود شفیعی؛ وکیل کیان تاجبخش اخیرا موفق شد که کل پرونده وی را مطالعه کند. آنچه که مشهود است عدم تناسب بین مستندات پرونده و حکم صادره علیه تاجبخش است، در ضمن اینکه خود پرونده ماهیت آشکارا سیاسی و خودسرانه دارد. جاسوسی آنگونه که بوضوح در قوانین ایران تعریف شده به این معناست که جرم جاسوسی زمانی اتفاق می افتد که اسناد کاملا محرمانه تحویل گرفته شود و به دولت خارجی تحویل داده شود. در حالیکه در پرونده به وجود چنین اسنادی ارجاع داده نشده است.

پرونده ای که اخیرا آقای شفیعی مطالعه کرده دربرگیرنده تصاویری از تظاهرات اخیر است که توسط کیان تاجبخش  ایمیل شده است. این تصاویر اساسا اسناد طبقه بندی شده یا محرمانه دولتی تلقی نمی شوند. کیان تاجبخش به اسناد محرمانه در هیچ مرحله ای به هیچوجه دسترسی نداشته است.

آقای شفیعی بطور دائم از ملاقات با موکل خود محروم شده است. با وجود آنکه وی پس از مطالعه پرونده، ازدادگاه انقلاب شعبه ۵۴ که مسئول رسیدگی به تقاضای تجدید نظر پرونده کیان است، اجازه ملاقات با وی را دریافت کرد تا لایحه دفاعیه را با موکل خود نهایی کند، اما در روز ۲۰ آذرماه، مسئولین زندان اوین به او اجازه ملاقات ندادند و از او اجازه قاضی صلواتی را خواستند که مسئول شعبه ۱۵ دادگاه انقلاب است. در حالیکه قاضی صلواتی بعنوان قاضی مسئول دادگاه بدوی حکم تاجبخش را صادر کرده و در این مرحله از دادرسی فارغ از رسیدگی است.

مسئولین بند الف ۲ زندان اوین که تحت مدیریت سپاه پاسداران است، به مسعود شفیعی اجازه ملاقات ندادند. لایحه دفاعیه  به زودی باید تقدیم دادگاه تجدید نظر شود در حالیکه از نظر اصولی قبل از ارائه لایحه، وکیل باید با موکل ملاقات کند، مطالب رسیده به وکیل براساس تماس های هر از چند گاه تلفنی کیان تاجبخش و یا پیام هایی است که از طریق خانواده در ملاقات ها منتقل شده اند.

بسیاری از موارد آئین دادرسی در این پرونده نقض شده است. از نظر شکلی نگهداری متهم در بازداشت موقت نقض ماده ۱۸۲ و همچنین ماده ۳۷ آئین دادرسی کیفری است. طبق قوانین ایران، کیان تاجبخش باید پس از تحقیقات مقدماتی به قید وثیقه آزاد می شد. در پرونده کیان تاجبخش ذکر شده است که  قاضی صلواتی دستور آزادی به قید وثیقه صادر کرد اما تاجبخش آن را نپذیرفت و خواست که به زندان برود، در حالیکه این مورد کاملا کذب است.

یکی دیگر از موارد نقض قوانین در این پرونده این است که طبق اصل ۱۳۹ قانون اساسی و ماده ۱۸۸ آئین دادرسی کیفری، تا زمانی که اتهامات متهم توسط دادگاه ثابت نشده، نباید از او اسمی برده شود، در حالیکه اتهامات مطرح شده توسط دادستان علیه تاجبخش بطورعمومی قبل از اثبات دادگاه منتشر و دادگاه او مستقیم از تلویزیون پخش شد.

اتهامات وارده علیه کیان تاجبخش، کاملا بی اساس هستند برای اینکه هیچ اقدام مجرمانه ای صورت نگرفته است. طبق ماده ۲ قانون مجازات اسلامی هر اقدامی که بعنوان اقدام مجرمانه تعریف نشده باشد، نمی تواند مبنای اتهامات مجرمانه قرار بگیرد.به گفته آقای شفیعی، اقدامی که تاجبخش بر اساس آن متهم شده شغل او بعنوان مشاور جامعه باز است که این عمل بعنوان یک اقدام مجرمانه تعریف نشده است.

درکیفرخواست صادره علیه کیان تاجبخش، در واقع خدمات وی بعنوان مشاور موسسه جامعه باز، آشوبگرانه تشریح شده است. موسسه جامعه باز یک بنیاد بین المللی است که به کشورهای در حال توسعه  انواعی از کمک های بشردوستانه ارائه می کند. به گفته وکیل کیان تاجبخش، فعالیت های این موسسه در ایران در توافقی با دولت جمهوری اسلامی ایران در قالب یک موافقتنامه ای که در آن انواع فعالیت ها ذکر شده است، صورت گرفته است، و هیچ فعالیتی بدون توافق مقامات جمهوری اسلامی ایران توسط کیان تاجبخش با موسسه جامعه باز انجام نشده است. علاوه بر آن، مشاورت کیان تاجبخش با موسسه جامعه باز در سال ۱۳۸۶؛ قبل از ماجرای انتخابات اخیر به اتمام رسیده بود.

کیفرخواست همچنین برمبنای اشتباهات فاحشی تنظیم شده است که آن را از اعتبار ساقط می کند. از میان آنها می توان برای نمونه به این ادعا اشاره کرد که در کیفرخواست اشاره شده است که متهم در تظاهرات غیر قانونی و در حین ارتکاب جرم بازداشت شده است، در حالی که کیان تاجبخش در منزل خود در ساعت ۹ شب در حضور همسرش بازداشت شد.

کمپین بین المللی حقوق بشرمجددا اعتراض خود را  به قوه قضائیه در مورد پرونده کیان تاجبخش ابراز کرده و خواستار بازبینی پرونده وی است چرا که این پرونده با نقض متعدد قانونی و اتهاماتی با منشا سیاسی تشکیل شده و آن را فاقد اعتبار کرده است. همچنین این کمپین خواستاربازپس گیری همه اتهامات از کیان تاجبخش و بازگرداندن وی به آغوش خانواده و محیط دانشگاهی است.

[Link to Persian article]

Interview: Imprisoned Iranian-American’s Mother Describes His Postelection Plight (Source: RFE/RL)

By , December 14, 2009 4:17 pm

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari has published an interview with Kian’s mother, which also aired in Persian on Radio Farda. BBC Persian and Voice of America have broadcast similar interviews in recent days with both Kian’s mother and his lawyer, Masoud Safie:

“Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested and put on trial in the course of the crackdown that followed mass protests over the results of Iran’s June presidential election…

RFE/RL: When was the last time you were able to visit your son, Kian Tajbakhsh, in prison?

Farideh Gerami: I visited my son at Evin prison on Thursday [December 10], along with his wife and daughter Hasti, who is about two [years] old.

RFE/RL: How is your son doing in prison and what conditions is he dealing with? He was among those arrested shortly after the disputed June 12 vote.

Gerami: [Kian Tajbaksh] was arrested three [weeks] after the election; it’s been five months that he’s being held in solitary confinement at Evin prison.

Spending five months in solitary confinement is extremely difficult. Psychologically he is strong because he is innocent and he hasn’t done anything wrong and he’s confident that his situation will be [resolved]; his case is transparent.

But physically he’s lost weight, and as a mother I can see that he’s [aged]. I feel he’s under pressure.

Of course, in order to comfort us, he always tells us that he’s doing fine, that we shouldn’t worry. But I’m really worried about him. You can imagine what happens when you hold anyone in solitary confinement for five months.

RFE/RL: What is your reaction to the 15-year prison sentence your son received after being charged with “soft overthrow” and similar charges. It’s one of the heaviest prison sentences issued for those arrested in the postelection crackdown.

Gerami: First of all, I have to say that when I returned to Iran two months ago [from New York] it was the birthday of my granddaughter, who is Kian’s only child. We all thought — we strongly believed — that my son would be released for the birthday of his daughter. Not only wasn’t he released, but the week after they issued the 15-year prison sentence not only us, I mean the family, but also [Kian] himself, we’re all astonished, we’re shocked, we don’t understand why such a sentence has been handed down.

He’s a scholar, he didn’t participate and wasn’t involved in the postelection events. He was under the watch of the Intelligence Ministry; all his actions were being monitored by the Intelligence Ministry. I would call him from New York and tell him not to go out, don’t take part in the unrest. He would tell me: “Mother, be sure, we’re fine, there isn’t any problem. My case is transparent and I’m being monitored.’

All the officials knew that he didn’t leave his house [during the postelection unrest]. Even if he had to go out to visit some friends, he would make sure to change his route to avoid [antigovernment] demonstrations. Therefore, when the sentence was issued we were all astonished; he was stunned. When [the authorities] informed him about the 15-year prison sentence, he was about to go crazy. He couldn’t believe something like this would happen.

We’re very, very concerned and I know for sure that my son is innocent; he knows he’s innocent, he hasn’t done anything [wrong]. He and his family were supposed to come to New York in early September and he was supposed to work at Columbia University, from which he graduated, and now we’re unfortunately stuck in this issue.

Political Case

RFE/RL: What do you think is the reason behind this heavy sentence? Kian Tajbakhsh was also jailed in [2007]. Why do you think he has faced so much pressure?

Gerami: This is my opinion, and it might not be correct, but I think it’s a political decision because my son is Iranian-American. He has dual nationality and this is a political [case].

RFE/RL: What do you think the United States can do in his case, the U.S. and the international community?

Gerami: So far, human rights groups in the U.S. and elsewhere — his friends and colleagues at Columbia University — have done what they could. They have sent letters to the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. They’ve sent letters to government officials. I myself have written to [Iranian President ] Mahmud Ahmadinejad and I was told that he received the letter.

[S]ome things have happened and I really hope that this issue will be resolved soon. My son’s case is now being reviewed by an appeals court. I really hope that the appeals court comes to the conclusion that the charges against him are baseless and he will be acquitted and allowed to come home as soon as possible.

I would just like to add that his daughter misses her father very much and is very impatient. We’re under a lot of pressure, a lot.”

[Link to article]
[Article in Persian]

Time to speak out on Iran (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)

By , December 11, 2009 6:56 am

An article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions Kian’s case:

“…Iran’s opposition “green” movement – which started as a protest against election fraud – has grown into a much broader civil rights movement. Monday’s demonstrations – documented on YouTube despite the regime’s media ban – showed that Iranians both young and old are increasingly inflamed by the government’s brutality toward its own people.

So why is President Obama so quiet about Iran’s human rights abuses?

Yes, U.S. officials have raised the case of three American hikers imprisoned after straying across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. And they have protested the jailing of Iranian American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh. But the White House has been noticeably reluctant to raise wider human rights concerns with Tehran.

The administration seems to fear that criticism of Tehran’s human rights violations would impede talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. But those talks have stalled since Iran backed off a promising compromise proposal. The impasse is linked to Iran’s repression of human rights.

Iran is going through an internal power struggle that is far from over and has paralyzed its domestic politics. This will make it extremely difficult to do a deal with Tehran in the near term.

The heart of the problem: The hard-line core of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard military force wants to consolidate power and crush any political opposition. The Revolutionary Guards, who are directing the crackdown in the country, resisted a compromise on the Iranian nuclear program (even though their man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed to endorse it).

“They want to put the country on a war footing,” said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “because they see this as the easiest way for them to consolidate power inside Iran.” So, says Ghaemi, there is no point in our keeping mum on Iran’s crackdown on its growing civil rights movement: “The Obama administration has to recognize that the Iranian protest movement is an undeniable reality that is not going way.”

Ghaemi and other Iran experts stress that Obama should take an approach different from the Bush administration’s. The latter linked support for the Iranian opposition to calls for “regime change” and provided funds for regime opponents. This gave Tehran a handy excuse to brand all Iranian civil-society groups as spies.

Rather than offer material support, says Ghaemi, Obama should be a moral voice. He should hold Iran to account at the United Nations for international conventions it has signed calling for freedom of expression and assembly…”

[Full Article]

New spy charge against jailed Iranian-American (Source: Associated Press)

By , November 27, 2009 5:15 pm

The AP has published the following piece about the latest disturbing developments in Kian’s case:

“CAIRO — Iran brought new espionage charges against an Iranian-American scholar who was already convicted of spying and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the country’s crackdown following June’s disputed presidential election, a human rights group said Thursday.

The new charges raise the possibility of a harsher penalty against Kian Tajbakhsh, a 47-year-old scholar who was in Iran working on a book when he was arrested at his home nearly five months ago amid security forces’ postelection sweep against the opposition.

Tajbakhsh was among more than 100 people — most of them opposition activists and protesters — brought before a court in a mass trial criticized by the opposition and rights groups as a show trial.

He was sentenced by a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court last month to 15 years in prison after being convicted of espionage and endangering state security. It is the harshest prison term handed down so far by the court. His family has denied the charges against Tajbakhsh.

Earlier this week, Tajbakhsh was brought before another branch of the Revolutionary Court that the elite Revolutionary Guard military corps has used to pursue dissidents, and he was charged with additional counts of espionage, the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in a statement.

The charges had been brought by the Guard, a member of Tajbakhsh’s family said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. The Guard has spearheaded the crackdown against pro-reform politicians, activists and protesters, accusing them of plotting a Western-backed “velvet revolution” against Iran’s clerical-led Islamic Republic.

Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner, was the only American detained in the crackdown that crushed giant street protests by hundreds of thousands of people after the June 12 election. The opposition claims the vote was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had called for his release. Initially, Tajbakhsh’s lawyer said he was sentenced to “at least 12 years” in the initial conviction, but it has since been confirmed to be 15 years…”

[Full article]

Call for Letters (Source: Scholars at Risk Network)

By , November 16, 2009 9:53 am

The Scholars at Risk Network, an international network of universities and colleges promoting academic freedom and defending the human rights of scholars and their communities worldwide, has issued a letter-writing appeal for Kian’s release:

“SAR is gravely concerned about reports indicating that Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, a respected international scholar and researcher, has been arrested, convicted and sentenced to over 12 years in prison… Dr. Tajbakhsh’s arrest, conviction and holding in solitary confinement raise grave concerns for his well-bring. The suddenness of Dr. Tajbakhsh’s arrest and the lack of any clear basis for his detention and conviction raise grave concerns about the ability of internationally recognized scholars and intellectuals to safely visit Iran…

Scholars at Risk therefore joins with the many national and international academic associations, scholarly societies, human rights organizations and individual scholars that respectfully urge the Iranian government to examine the circumstances of Dr. Tajbakhsh’s arrest and conviction.”

[Full appeal]

Cruel, Pointless Games (Source: New York Times)

The editors of the New York Times have called for the release of Kian and the three American hikers reportedly charged with espionage:

“…The hikers’ case is only the latest example of the Iranian government misusing and undermining its judiciary for political ends.

Scores of protesters and journalists were jailed after major demonstrations over June’s fraudulent presidential elections. Last month, an Iranian court convicted Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, of fomenting antigovernment unrest and sentenced him to [12 to] 15 years in prison…

Iran has a right to lock up legitimate criminals if they are tried fairly. But the spectacle of three Americans subjected to a show trial will make it even less likely that the world will give Iran the respect it insists it deserves — or even a serious hearing…”

[Full editorial]

In Evin Prison (Source: Huffington Post); Iran’s Harshest Sentence for an Innocent Scholar (Source: New York Review of Books); Iran Sentences Academic Linked to Protests (Source: National Public Radio)

Iranian American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who served in Evin prison at the same time as Kian in 2007, has been featured recently speaking about Kian’s rearrest as she discusses her newly published book, My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran:

In a review of My Prison, My Home, Claire Messud notes in Huffington Post

“…[Not losing one’s grip on reality] is the struggle for any prisoner in such a situation; but it is also the struggle for the Iranian people at large: How not to succumb to the regime’s view of the world? Theirs is a society of constant contradictions, of mirrors and masks, of both authority and a theater of authority, to which they must subscribe. They, too, are terrorized by prolonged uncertainty, never knowing the limits of what is allowed–can women show their hair in public this month without fear of arrest? Can weddings allow dancing in private homes this year, or will the morals police break down the door? Can the press question the regime this week, or will the newspapers be shut down? Can you demonstrate freely today, or might you be arrested, tortured, and killed? …”

On Kian’s arrest in he New York Review of Books blog :

“…The [show] trial has been a travesty of justice. The initial indictment was directed against everyone at once. There were only three sessions. Some of the accused were paraded before television cameras to make coerced confessions. (Kian made a statement too; he said that the US and Europe desired to bring about change in Iran, but that he had no knowledge of a plot). Kian did not even get to choose his own lawyer and had to make do with a government-appointed one, who said he will appeal.

The trial is further evidence that some of the most hard-line elements in the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards are now setting domestic policy. They have used the trial to attempt, yet again, to persuade an ever-skeptical Iranian public that the Islamic Republic is indeed in grave danger of a “soft overthrow” plotted by England and America, to settle scores with their political adversaries, and to rid themselves, once and for all, of the reformers and moderates in their midst. The irony is that Kian was within two weeks of leaving for the US to take up a long-standing invitation to teach at Columbia University…”

On National Public Radio :

“…I never believed that they would arrest [Kian] and charge him with the same accusations that they had leveled against him and against me in prison because I knew that Kian was keeping a low profile and he was not a member of the reformist movement. He was not part of any political activity or party. And he was just leading a very quiet life, translating books and writing books…”

Iran: The Revenge (Source: New York Review of Books)

By , November 5, 2009 9:31 am

An anonymous author has published an analysis of Iran’s post-election unrest and crackdown in the New York Review:

“…Iran’s summer of discontent started on June 12, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won an election that his reformist opponents, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, declared to have been rigged, setting in motion a large, peaceful protest movement. While it had the support of two former presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the movement was put down with immense brutality, although it remains, as continuing smaller demonstrations show, very much alive…

…The summer was punctuated by further protests, also savagely put down. As the regime’s leading personalities turned on one other, two events took place that might, one day, be regarded as milestones in the decline of the Islamic regime.

The first was the circulation of reports of murder, torture, and rape from behind the doors of Iran’s jails, atrocities that continue and have become a major scandal, managed with spectacular ineptness by the regime. The reports have discredited the Islamic Republic’s claims to righteousness and morality, and they have led many Iranians to compare Tehran’s most notorious detention center, at Kahrizak, between Tehran and Qom, with Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

The second event was a mass trial that told us much about the Islamic Republic’s diminishing ability to manipulate public opinion. This trial, of leading reformist politicians and journalists, and also of ordinary demonstrators, began on August 1. It has aimed to destroy the reform movement and convince the public that the reformists have cooperated with foreigners to launch a “color revolution” of the kind that ended other anti-Western regimes in such European countries as Serbia and Ukraine. The trial was widely seen as a failure. The reform movement is not dead, and the desires that animate it, for greater political freedom and personal autonomy, have not been extinguished. And to judge by copious anecdotal evidence and the blogs of people living in Iran, a very large number of Iranians do not believe the confessions they have heard from prisoners; they see the trial primarily as evidence for the Islamic Republic’s descent into tyranny…”

[Full article]

Grim fates for prisoners with ties to foreigners (Source: Los Angeles Times)

By , October 30, 2009 7:34 am

The news blog of the LA Times is updating the situation surrounding the cases of Kian, British embassy employee Hossein Rassam, and the three American hikers detained in Iran:

“No mercy for those accused of trying to topple the Islamic Republic.

Britain on Thursday protested a four-year jail sentence apparently imposed on one of its senior employees at its embassy in Tehran accused of spying and fomenting violence.

Hossein Rassam, 44, who served as chief political analyst at the British Embassy in Tehran was sentenced in a closed courtroom earlier this week, according to The Times of London

In other developments, an Iranian human rights group is claiming that judiciary officials in Iran refuse to let a lawyer file an appeal on behalf of Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian American scholar sentenced to 15 years in jail for allegedly stirring up trouble during recent protests…

The reports of Rassam’s sentence and the refusal of Tajbakhsh’s appeal surfaced as Britain, the U.S. and other major powers considered Iran’s reply to a proposed deal by the United Nations’ atomic watchdog intended to ease international tension over its controversial nuclear program…

Miliband urged Iranian authorities in his statement to overturn Rassam’s sentence, which he said constituted an “attack against the entire diplomatic community in Iran.”

He warned of gloomy consequences for Iran from countries other than Britain should the sentence not be overruled…

Among other charges, Tajbakhsh was found guilty of “acting against national security,” “spying and connections with foreign elements against the sacred system of the Islamic Republic” and “causing lack of public trust toward the official national organs and the ruling system by instigating rioting, mayhem, fear and terror within the society,” according to a statement issued by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

According to Iranian law Tajbakhsh has 20 days to appeal, but the rights group claims that Iranian judiciary officials have rejected multiple attempts by Tajbakhsh’s lawyer to file an appeal in what the group calls a “blatantly illegal act.”
When Tajbakhsh’s lawyer protested to judiciary officials, he was said to have been told: “It’s our law, so we can do what we want with it.”

The scholar has spent the months since his July arrest in Tehran’s Evin prison. He was previously kept in solitary confinement but was recently transferred to a villa on the prison compound, where he lived with a number of other high-profile detainees including a former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, according to the New York Times.

Tajbakhsh is now said to be back in solitary confinement.”

[Full article]

Jailed Iranian-American Is Said to Be in Solitary Confinement (Source: New York Times)

By , October 29, 2009 2:58 pm

The New York Times‘ Nazila Fathi spoke with family members for an update on Kian’s current situation:

“An Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, who has been jailed in Iran since July and was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison, has been transferred back into solitary confinement, a family member said Wednesday.

He has been in the infamous Evin prison for months but, he told his wife, was moved early this month from solitary confinement to a “villa” on the prison grounds, living with four other high-profile inmates, according to the family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of complicating the case.

A few days ago Mr. Tajbakhsh was returned to solitary confinement, where prisoners often are forced to sleep on the floor.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with a doctorate from Columbia University, was arrested after protests broke out following the disputed June 12 presidential election.

The report of Mr. Tajbakhsh’s transfer came as the government appeared to continue its attempts to forestall protests scheduled for next Wednesday, the anniversary of the American Embassy takeover in Tehran. After arrests in the summer that stopped most large demonstrations, the opposition has been using occasions that the government supports to stage periodic rallies.

On Wednesday, state television reported that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, said questioning the results of the election was “the biggest crime.” It is unclear if that was anything more than a rhetorical flourish, but the timing suggests that it was a warning to protesters to stand down.

Last week, the wives and family members of a number of high-profile political detainees were arrested at a religious ceremony in Tehran, and 19 of them continue to be held, reformist Web sites have reported.

Mr. Tajbakhsh is one of more than 100 people being detained on election-related charges.

According to his family member, he told his wife that he was taken to solitary confinement on Sunday to do “some work.” In the past, prisoners have been kept in difficult conditions and asked to write confessions or to implicate fellow prisoners…”

[Full article]

Iran: Overturn Death Sentences, Other Unfair Convictions (Source: Human Rights Watch)

By , October 26, 2009 11:10 am

Human Rights Watch has issued a report calling on Iran’s Judiciary to overturn convictions that have been handed down by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran since the end of September against defendants accused of inciting post-election unrest including Kian:

“The Iranian Judiciary should immediately quash the convictions that have been handed down by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran since the end of September against defendants accused of inciting post-election unrest, Human Rights Watch said today. The convictions all stem from unfair trials in which the accused were denied access to lawyers.

The authorities repeatedly denied the prisoners’ requests for access to lawyers during pre-trial detention that in many cases lasted months, and their requests at their trials for lawyers of their choice were refused, Human Rights Watch said. The wife of one of the sentenced prisoners told Human Rights Watch that her husband was told he would not leave the prison any time soon if he did not agree to write a confession…

On October 20, the Revolutionary Court sentenced Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, to more than 12 years in prison. Authorities arrested Tajbakhsh, 47, on July 9 and later charged him with acting against national security for participating in Gulf 2000, an internet forum housed at Columbia University, and for working for the Open Society Institute. At Tajbakhsh’s trial, the appointed lawyer simply called the accusations against his client “untenable,” but did nothing else to challenge the accusations…

Tajbakhsh, Tabatabai, Aghaei, Bastani, and Hajjarian were put on trial on August 26. After being held in solitary confinement for weeks, denied access to their lawyers throughout their detention and trial, and permitted very limited access to their families, they testified against themselves and their colleagues.

Four post-election trials have been held at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Authorities have allowed only reporters from pro-government media to cover the proceedings, which were presided over by Judge Abolqasem Salavati. Local and foreign reporters, families of detainees, and their lawyers were not permitted to attend the trials.

Under Iranian law, individuals may appeal their sentences, which must be upheld by both the appeals court and the Supreme Court before they are carried out…”

[Full report]

Inside Iran’s Campaign of Intimidation (Source: Daily Beast)

By , October 25, 2009 11:07 am

Gary Sick elaborates on his role in Kian’s case:

“Last week, an Iranian-American colleague of mine, Kian Tajbaksh, was sentenced in Tehran to 15 years in prison. The indictment included the charges that (1) he was in contact with me; (2) that he was part of the Gulf/2000 network that I manage; and (3) that I am an agent of the CIA…

There are a number of commentators on Iran, such as Reuel Gerecht, Graham Fuller, and Bruce Riedel, who indeed worked for the CIA. Although their political views disagree sharply, they always identify themselves as former CIA employees. I do not identify myself that way for the very simple reason that I never worked for the CIA.

The prosecutors charge that Kian was in touch with me. Right. We were both academics in New York, and we saw each other from time to time. However, I have gone back over the past 20 years with that in mind, and I am struck by something quite different. Over that period of time, I have known every Iranian ambassador to the United Nations and many members of the staff of the Iranian U.N. mission. I have spent much more time with them than with Kian.

More important, I have been in meetings with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on four different occasions over the past three years. I have spent at least nine hours with him, much more than I ever spent with Kian. In my last meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad, I told him that if he were simply a lowly academic, instead of the president of Iran, he would be subject to arrest upon his return to Iran for meeting with the roomful of U.S. academics and think tank representatives that he had assembled at his hotel. He scoffed at the idea. Now one of my colleagues, a lowly Iranian-American professor who was about to take up a position at my university, is being condemned to 15 years in prison because, among other things, he had contact with me.

Iranian security officials are notably lacking in any sense of irony or humor. But I do wonder whether President Ahmadinejad is being considered for indictment because of his extensive contacts with me over the past four years.

The Gulf/2000 network is an Internet project that began 16 years ago to facilitate communication and information sharing among individuals who have a professional association with issues involving the Persian Gulf. It includes individuals of widely differing backgrounds and opinions, including both private citizens and government officials from countries around the world, including Iran. If any Iranian government official wishes to know about G2K, as we call it, he need only consult his colleagues who are members. G2K is routinely cited in international conferences in Tehran and elsewhere as a reliable source of informed commentary and factual information about issues involving the Persian Gulf. It is limited to specialists, but it is not a secret. It includes individuals of every possible political persuasion. And it is not engaged in overthrowing governments.

The indictment against Kian is in fact an indictment of the legal and security structure of the Iranian government. The charges are false, deliberately false. They consist of a series of political fabrications devoid of even the flimsiest effort to verify the truth.

These accusations cast shame on any institution that professes respect for justice and law. They substantiate the words of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, one the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that this government is no longer either Islamic or a republic but merely the latest in the shabby succession of Middle Eastern military regimes. These charges remind us of the excesses of the Stalinist show trials and the abominations of the Chinese Red Guards—examples of revolutions that betrayed their own ideals.

This is not about Kian, and it is certainly not about me. It is about the abject failure of a ruling clique that has lost the confidence and support of its own people and must contrive scapegoats to excuse its own deficiencies.”

[Full article]

The New Hostage Crisis (Source: Foreign Policy)

By , October 24, 2009 9:44 am

In a cover story for Foreign Policy magazine, Kian’s friend Karim Sadjadpour considers Kian’s detention and sentencing and questions “why Iran’s rulers imprison people they know are innocent”:

“My friend, the Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, was recently sentenced to 15 years in Tehran’s Evin prison. For those familiar with the ways of authoritarian regimes, the charges against him will ring familiar: espionage, cooperating with an enemy government, and endangering national security.

Since his arrest last July — he was accused of helping to plan the post-election uprisings — Kian’s family and friends have made countless appeals for clemency to the Iranian government, written letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pleading his innocence, and signed dozens of petitions. All to no avail.

I’ve come now to realize that the regime probably thinks we’re obtuse. Indeed, they know better than anyone that Kian is an innocent man. As the expression goes in Persian, “da’va sar-e een neest,” i.e. that’s not what this fight is about.

Allow me to explain.

Kian was first arrested in 2007. His crime was having previously worked as a consultant for the Open Society Institute (OSI), a U.S.-based NGO. Though his work was nonpolitical, focused on educational and developmental projects, and had received the explicit consent of the Iranian government, he was accused of trying to foment a “velvet revolution” on behalf of U.S. intelligence agencies.

While in solitary confinement in Evin, he was subjected to countless hours of interrogation. Had the authorities found any evidence for the above charges during all this, Kian certainly would not have been freed after four months.

He was permitted to leave the country after his release, but chose to remain in Tehran with his wife and newborn daughter. He reassured his worried family and friends that he was now an open book to the Iranian government and there could be no further rationale or pretext to detain him.

Over the last two years, he regularly met with his minder from the Ministry of Intelligence. Aware of the fact that the government was monitoring all of his activities and communications — including e-mail and telephone conversations — he kept a very low profile and exhibited great caution.

During this period, Kian and I regularly exchanged e-mails. He urged me to read his favorite book, Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz’s brilliant novel, The Captive Mind, which examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.

On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the shah we debated the successes and failures of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and he told me he believed that the former outweigh the latter. Hardly the worldview of a subversive counterrevolutionary.

Even amid the massive popular uprisings following the tainted June 2009 presidential elections, Kian remained cautious and unmoved, steering way clear of any political activity and continuing to meet with his minder.

On June 14, two days after the election, he wrote me an email saying, “I’m keeping my head down … I have nothing to add to all the reports that are here.” In the same e-mail, Kian even expressed skepticism about the opposition’s accusations of electoral fraud, saying he had seen “little hard evidence.”

A few weeks later he was arrested, bafflingly, on charges of helping to plan the post-election unrest.

Given the government’s intimate familiarity with the benign nature of Kian’s activities and communications, it appeared he was simply needed as an unfortunate pawn in the regime’s campaign to portray indigenous popular protests as orchestrated by foreign powers. Though the unrest gradually subsided, we went from counting Kian’s detention in days to weeks to months.

Along with dozens of other prisoners, dressed in pajamas and sandals, he was forced to participate in humiliating show-trials that were broadcast on official state television. Hard-liners used Kian to attack their reformist opponents, inventing fantastic claims that he was the link between former President Mohammed Khatami and OSI founder George Soros.

Though his face looked visibly different, haggard, his two-year old daughter Hasti ran and kissed the television screen when she saw his image. His wife sobbed.

When our courageous mutual friend, Canadian-Iranian Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, was finally released from Evin after four months, we thought it boded well for Kian. These hopes were dashed by Tuesday’s almost comically harsh sentence. 15 years!

The over-the-top severity of the sentence makes it eminently clear that this case really has little to do with Kian, and everything to do with Iran’s negotiating posture toward the United States. A disaffected contact in the Iranian foreign ministry — the vast majority of whom were thought to have voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi — bluntly confirmed my suspicions. “Eena daran bazi mikonan,” he told me. “These guys are just playing.”

While neighboring Dubai and Turkey have managed to build thriving economies by trading in goods and services, Iran, even 30 years after the revolution, remains in the business of trading in human beings. In addition to Kian, Iran is now holding at least five other American citizens against their will, including three young hikers — Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal (an outspoken Palestinian-rights activist) — detained in June along the Iran-Iraq border in Kurdistan.

What, if anything, Tehran seeks in return for these human subjects is unclear, and frankly it’s a difficult issue for Iran to broach, given that it undermines the accusations the regime has concocted. That said, the official line can often change abruptly, and for no apparent reason. After Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was sentenced last year to eight years in prison (on preposterous charges of espionage), she was summarily released a few weeks later.

Until recently, it was accepted wisdom that the uptick in Tehran’s repression of its own citizenry and detention of U.S. nationals was merely a reaction to the hostile policies of the Bush administration. This thesis is being quickly disproven as the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to human rights in Iran proves equally unsuccessful in getting the regime to improve its practices.

Whether Republic or Democrat, U.S. officials are often puzzled by the detention of dual nationals, and unsure how to react to them. Do U.S. statements and/or diplomatic efforts help or hurt the cause of the detainees?

Based on the experience of several Iranian-Americans who have served time in Evin — including esteemed scholar Haleh Esfandiari, Saberi, and peace activist Ali Shakeri — we know that thoughtful public statements from U.S. officials coupled with behind-the scenes intervention were helpful to their cause.

But these are individual cases. What U.S. policy measures could help improve the overall human rights situation in Iran, and prevent further detentions from taking place in the future?

Broadly speaking, I support the argument — made mostly by the American left — that expanding and improving ties between Washington and Tehran would help mitigate the detention of innocents in Iran — whether Iranian or American.

I also agree with the counterargument, made mostly by the right, that Tehran’s hard-liners use continued enmity with the United States in order to blame Washington when, among other things, their population rises up, economic malaise worsens, or a terrorist attack happens in Baluchistan.

Unfortunately, the difficulty of potential engagement has increased significantly in recent months as any remaining moderates and pragmatists have essentially been purged from the Iranian government’s power structure. The color spectrum of the regime now ranges from pitch black to dark grey. And insofar as the continued detention of U.S. citizens in Tehran decreases the likelihood of a diplomatic breakthrough with Washington, the interests of at least some of these hard-liners will be served.

Sadly, languishing in Evin prison, my friend Kian understands this dynamic only too well.

Shortly after President Obama’s speech in Cairo last June, Kian wrote, “Iranians might ponder Barack Obama’s challenge to Iran to articulate ‘not what it is against, but what future it wants to build.’ Each Iranian will wonder how much thought our rulers or our fellow countrymen have given to this critical question and why answers to it are so vague and so few.”

[Full article]

More Iranian Injustice (Source: New York Times)

The editors of The New York Times have joined the chorus of other major newspapers decrying Kian’s sentencing:

“The journalist Maziar Bahari joined his pregnant wife in London this week after being freed from an Iranian prison where he had been held for five months. That is welcome news, but it would be a mistake to think that the mullahs who run the government had been seized with humanitarian spirit. If anything, they seem more determined to shift the blame for the unrest that followed the fraudulent June 12 election to America and other “foreigners.”

The Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with a doctorate from Columbia University, was arrested in July. He was prosecuted with more than 100 other defendants in show trials after the election sparked the biggest challenge to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution.

An Iranian court on Sunday convicted him of fomenting unrest against the government and sentenced him to 15 years in prison… We hope this outrageous verdict is reversed on appeal. Indeed, Tehran may be using him as a pawn for negotiations with the United States on its nuclear program. But the new judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani, will fail if he cannot direct a judiciary that is fair and consistent.

The mullahs are twisting themselves into knots trying to prove that outside forces are at work when they are facing homegrown outrage over their increasingly autocratic state. They also think they can solve the crisis with force, despite the extent of internal dissent and the refusal of many elites to condone the crackdown.

On Friday, a leading opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, was attacked at a media fair. One day earlier, authorities stormed a prayer service at a private home and arrested 60 reformists. Many Iranians detained after the election protests linger in prison without charges. Two weeks ago, authorities sentenced four to death sentences.

Since July 31, Iran has been holding three American hikers who were seized along the Iran-Iraq border. Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent has been missing since 2007. These victims of Iran’s autocratic leaders must be released. Iran may sit at the negotiating table with the United States and other world powers, but it will never earn the respect it craves if it continues these kinds of human rights abuses.”

[Link to editorial]

Detente on ice (Source: Washington Post)

By , October 22, 2009 9:42 am

The editors of The Washington Post are calling on President Obama to “speak up” about Kian’s case and others like it:

“Does an Iran that sentences an innocent American scholar to prison really want ‘engagement’?

THERE WERE hints of progress in the nuclear talks with Iran on Wednesday as Iranian negotiators in Vienna accepted for consideration a plan under which Iran would ship most of its current stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. But there also was a contrary signal from Tehran about the desire of its extremist regime for detente with the West. That was the reported sentencing of Iranian American academic Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison on a blatantly bogus charge of espionage.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, a well-known expert on urban planning, had no role in the protests that erupted after Iran’s fraudulent presidential election in June. He told friends that he was “keeping his head down.” In fact he was preparing to begin a teaching appointment at Columbia University this fall. But Mr. Tajbakhsh, who was educated in Britain and the United States but has lived in Iran since 1999, was a convenient pawn for the regime’s hard-liners. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are trying to prove that the vast opposition movement against them is the product of a conspiracy by Western intelligence agencies and nongovernmental organizations such as the Open Society Institute, for which Mr. Tajbakhsh once worked as an adviser.

The arrest and trial of Mr. Tajbakhsh and more than 140 other people, including a number of opposition leaders, constitute a key element in the coup that the regime’s hard-liners have staged against more moderate elements — including those who genuinely favor rapprochement with the West. The tactical concessions that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government is hinting at in Vienna complement the crackdown: By striking deals with Western leaders, the ruling clique seeks to legitimize itself at home. If it wins the domestic power struggle, there is no chance that it will retreat from its attempt to acquire nuclear weapons or to gain influence over the Middle East through terrorism and militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Obama administration and other Western governments say that they are cognizant of the danger of strengthening Mr. Ahmadinejad and his superior, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But they have been cautious about following the advice of Iranians such as Nobel Peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who is urging the administration to talk as much about the treatment of people such as Mr. Tajbakhsh as it does about Iran’s nuclear program. To be sure, White House and State Department spokesmen protested Mr. Tajbakhsh’s sentence; the White House statement said that he “embodies what is possible between our two countries.” We hope that President Obama himself will see fit to speak up about Mr. Tajbakhsh’s case and others like it. The fact that Tehran is imprisoning the very people capable of building bridges between Iran and the United States is a clear message to the president about how the regime regards his “engagement” policy.”

[Link to editorial]

Iranian-American Stunned by Sentence (Source: New York Times)

Nazila Fathi spoke with Kian’s family about his circumstances in prison, general well-being and reaction to his sentencing:

“When Kian Tajbakhsh went before a judge in Tehran on Sunday he had several reasons to think he would be released. Instead, to his utter shock, he was given a 15-year prison term.

Since being detained in July, Mr. Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, had been permitted two home visits, the last on Oct. 15, when he appeared hopeful that he would be released soon, a family member said. He said he had been transferred recently to a villa on the compound of the Evin prison, a sign of leniency that he thought suggested his release was imminent.

Mr. Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with a doctorate from Columbia University, was arrested in protests that rocked Iran after the election on June 12, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed an overwhelming victory.

Mr. Tajbakhsh told his wife about the sentence on Monday in a telephone call, said the family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of complicating Mr. Tajbakhsh’s case.

He was sentenced on charges of working as a consultant for the Open Society Institute, a democracy-building group, which the indictment identified as a C.I.A. satellite institution. He was also charged with belonging to the Gulf/2000 Project, an e-mail list of scholars, journalists, diplomats and businessmen with interests in the Persian Gulf region. He has the right to appeal.

But the harsh sentence surprised Mr. Tajbakhsh, the relative said. In the past two weeks he had been moved from solitary confinement to the villa, and the depression and insomnia that he had suffered while in prison had improved significantly. The family member said Mr. Tajbakhsh’s morale was noticeably higher in the recent visit than during his first one in late September, when he was still in solitary confinement and subjected to long hours of interrogation.

At that point, “he was in an awful state and said he had to take tranquilizers to sleep,” the family member said.

“But he was much happier this time and was excited that he had a shower and could sleep on a bed for the first time in months,” the relative said. “He was very hopeful.”

Mr. Tajbakhsh shares the villa with four other high-profile prisoners, among them a former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, and Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, who was the government spokesman under President Mohammad Khatami.

On Saturday the authorities released another person with dual citizenship, Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek reporter and an independent filmmaker. But some experts believe the government wanted Mr. Tajbakhsh as a bargaining chip.

“The prison term seems to be a message to the American administration, saying that we can keep him if we want to,” said Mohsen Sazegara, the director of the Washington-based Research Institute for Contemporary Iran and an opposition figure who was jailed in Iran in 2003. “They want to use him in negotiations with the American administration.”

[Link to article]

U.S. White House statement on the sentencing of Kian Tajbakhsh (Source: The White House)

By , October 21, 2009 2:53 am

The United States White House has issued the following statement via its Press Secretary:

“We express our deepest regret and strong objection that the Islamic Republic of Iran has sentenced Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison. Mr. Tajbakhsh poses no threat to Iran or its national security. As an independent and internationally-respected scholar, Mr. Tajbakhsh has dedicated his life to fostering greater understanding between Iran and the international community. He embodies what is possible between our two countries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kian’s family and loved ones on this difficult day.

Further, we are deeply concerned that Mr. Tajbakhsh may have been forced to stand trial in the revolutionary court without the benefit of his own legal counsel. The right to due process is universal and must be respected. The right to a fair and public hearing is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the right to legal representation is also guaranteed in Iran’s own constitution, as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. We urge Iran to release Mr. Tajbakhsh as soon as possible.”

[Link to statement]

Kian sentenced by Revolutionary Court to “more than 12 years” in prison: Family and friends denounce unlawful sentence and demand Kian’s immediate release

By , October 20, 2009 12:19 pm

Family and friends of Iranian American detainee Kian Tajbakhsh are shocked and outraged by the news that he has been unjustly sentenced in an extra-judicial proceeding to more than 12 years in prison and are demanding his immediate release.

Kian has endured solitary confinement in an undisclosed location for nearly four months broken only by long hours of interrogations without access to his own lawyer and with only occasional brief, supervised contact with family members, who remain extremely concerned about his mental and physical well-being.

The baffling charges being lodged by the Revolutionary Court linking Kian together with high-ranking Iranian reformists purportedly plotting to overthrow the regime with American support are entirely baseless.

As an independent scholar Kian is neither a member of the Iranian reformist movement nor in contact with any foreign headquarters inside or outside Iran, and has had no involvement in pre- or post-election unrest.

Kian has been denied access to his own legal representation and the Swiss consulate, but was nevertheless convicted within the context of an extra-judicial show trial.

Therefore, attempts by Iran’s judiciary to block his release despite the efforts of senior Iranian officials to free him clearly violate not only Iran’s international legal obligations but also the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

دادگاه انقلاب کیان را به “بیش از 12 سال” زندان محکوم کرد
. خانواده و  دوستان  کیان این حکم غیر قانونی را  رد
میکنند و خواستار آزادی هر چه سریع تر او  هستند
خانواده و دوستان کیان تاجبخش از خبر محکومیت او نگرانند
و خواستار آزادی  فوری او هستند. کیان مدت چهار ماه است
که در زندان انفرادی و در محل نا معلومی به  سر میبرد. در
این مدت  انزوای او تنها  با بازجوئی های طولانی بدون
دسترسی به وکیل منتخب خودش  و ملاقات های کوتاه مدت با
خانواده اش زیر  نظر ماموران زندان  پاره میشود.  خانواده کیان
بسیار نگران وضعیت جسمی و روانی او هستند. اتهامات عجیب و
بی پایه ای  که دادگاه انقلابی به کیان نسبت داده او را
با مقامات بالای موج رفرمیست  ایران مربوط کرده و او را
مسول  شرکت در توطعه ای  با  همکاری امریکا برای بر اندازی
رژیم ایران میداند.  کیان یک دانشگاهی و محقق مستقل است.
او  هیچ رابطه ای با جریانات رفرمیستی در ایران و یا
مراکز خارجی در داخل یا خارج ایران  ندارد و هیچ گونه شرکتی
در جریانات  اعتراضی بعد از انتخابات در ایران نداشته است
کیان اجازه دسترسی به وکیل  منتخب خود و یا رابطه با
کنسولگری سوئیس در ایران را ندارد. با این حال در  دادگاهی
نمایشی و غیر قانونی محکوم شده است.    دخالت سیستم قضائی
برای  جلوگیری از آزادی او علارقم  کوشش های  مقامات
بالارتبه ایران نه تنها در تضاد با مسولیت های بین المللی ایران
است  بلکه   قانون اساسی جمهوری  اسلامی را نیز زیر پا

Kian Tajbakhsh, Iranian-American Academic, Gets 12 Years for Election Unrest (Source: Associated Press)

Media outlets around the world are reporting the shocking and disturbing news that Kian has been issued to a long prison sentence by a revolutionary court:

“TEHRAN, Iran — Iran ignored appeals by Hillary Rodham Clinton and even rock star Sting and sentenced an Iranian-American academic to 12 years in prison Tuesday for his alleged role in anti-government protests after the country’s disputed presidential election.

The sentence for Kian Tajbakhsh was the longest prison term yet in a mass trial of more than 100 opposition figures, activists and journalists in the postelection turmoil.

At the same time, Iran allowed another defendant to leave the country – Canadian-Iranian Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist arrested in the same crackdown who had been freed on bail over the weekend.

Bahari joined his British wife, who is in the last days of her pregnancy, in London, Newsweek said on its Web site Tuesday. It was the first word that Bahari had left Iran…

Bahari’s release could be a concession by Iran to international pressure. But Tajbakhsh’s heavy sentence signaled that Tehran was sticking to a tough line overall on the political unrest. It came amid calls in Iran for the prosecution of the most senior opposition figure and suggestions that three American hikers, detained after accidentally crossing into Iran, could face charges.

Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner, was arrested by security forces at his Tehran home July 9 – the only American detained in the crackdown that crushed giant street protests by hundreds of thousands of people after the June 12 election. The opposition claims the vote was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly said Tajbakhsh should be released immediately, saying he poses no threat to the Iranian government or its national security.

Washington has repeatedly denounced his arrest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed in August for his release, and he was specially named in a call by the British rock star Sting to free all political prisoners in Iran.

“Family and friends of Iranian-American detainee Kian Tajbakhsh are shocked and outraged by the news,” said Pam Kilpadi, a friend of Tajbakhsh who is working on a book with him. She described the charges as “baffling.”

“As an independent scholar Kian is neither a member of the Iranian reformist movement nor in contact with any foreign headquarters inside or outside Iran, and has had no involvement in pre- or postelection unrest,” said Kilpadi, a doctoral researcher at Britain’s University of Bristol currently based in Cambridge, Mass.

Tajbakhsh’s lawyer, Houshang Azhari, told the official IRNA news agency that he would appeal the conviction on charges of “acting against national security.” He said the law prohibited him from divulging the full details of the sentence and would only say it was “more than 12 years.”

The appeal could open an avenue for freeing Tajbakhsh. An Iranian-American journalist who was arrested this year, Roxana Saberi, was convicted of espionage but freed on appeal in what was widely seen as a political decision to defuse tensions with Washington.

Tajbakhsh, 47, had been targeted by Iranian authorities before. In 2007, he was arrested on similar charges while working for the Open Society Institution, a pro-democracy organization run by American philanthropist George Soros – a figure Iran has often cited as part of the anti-government plot. He denied the charges and was released after four months in prison.

Afterward, Tajbakhsh left the Open Society Institution and remained with his family in Iran, working on a book.

Weeks after his arrest in July, Tajbakhsh appeared in the mass trial of opposition figures. Many of the defendants delivered courtroom confessions to a plot to topple the government – admissions that opposition groups said were forced from them.

At his turn to speak during an Aug. 25 court session, Tajbakhsh appeared to try to speak only vaguely about foreign interference in Iran, saying that “undeniably this was a goal of the U.S. and European countries to bring change inside Iran” – although he said he had no direct knowledge of any plot.

The court has issued convictions against a few Iranian opposition figures, sentencing them to five or six years – all far shorter than Tajbakhsh’s, although three others accused of belonging to what Iran considers terrorist groups were sentenced to death.

“It’s obviously completely politically motivated,” said Arien Mack, a psychology professor at The New School in New York City, where Tajbakhsh taught urban policy until 2001. She said that since his 2007 arrest, Tajbakhsh had focused on his academic work, avoiding politics.

“As far as I know, he did not even vote in the last election” in Iran, she said…”

[Full article]

Mother of Detained American in Iran: Let Him Go (Source: Fox News)

By , October 17, 2009 7:19 am

An article highlighting the case of one of the three American hikers detained in Iran mentions Kian’s case as well:

“…A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter, said the government is doggedly working behind the scenes with the Swiss government to secure the three hikers’ release. The official said the issue was raised on Oct. 1, when the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany met with Iranian officials in Geneva over nuclear proliferation negotiations.

The official said that U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Bill Burns also requested information on the welfare and whereabouts of two dual nationals, American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh and Reza Taghavi, a 71-year-old American who has been imprisoned since May 2008 without a trial or formal charges…”

[Full article]

Interview (Source: Foreign Policy)

By , October 16, 2009 7:21 am

In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Iranian American academic Haleh Esfandiari urged officials to continue exerting pressure to secure the release of Kian and other Iranian political prisoners:

“FP: Do you see any sea change among Iranian-American intellectuals regarding engaging with Iran?

HE: I’ll talk about myself because each of us has a different opinion on this issue. I still believe in engagement. But in Geneva two weeks ago and next week in Vienna, when [the Western powers and Iran] sit and talk, the human rights issues must also be on the table. They should not just focus on the nuclear issue. That’s what the Iranians would love to do. But no, they should also talk about the human rights issue, because it’s very important.

Look, we have three American hikers sitting in jail somewhere in Iran. You have an Iranian-American, Kian Tajbakhsh, sitting in jail… Plus, there are thousands of Iranian activists who are sitting in jail. Talk about them — talk about them all the time! What really helped me get out was this international pressure, day in and day out…”

[Full article]

An Alternative Nobel (Source: Wall Street Journal);
Our Laureate: Neda of Iran (Source: Washington Post)
How to Engage Iran (Source: Washington Post)

By , October 13, 2009 11:45 am

The editors of major U.S. newspapers are naming Iranian dissidents as their preferred choice for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and highlighting the tension between diplomacy and human rights advocacy currently impacting Kian and other Iranian political prisoners:

“Suppose this year’s Nobel Peace Prize had gone to the scores of Iranians now on trial for having protested the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last June. For the three defendants who were sentenced to death over the weekend, a Nobel might have made all the difference in the nick of time. At a minimum, it could have validated their struggle.

…the Obama Administration has downplayed human rights in Iran as it pursues a negotiated nuclear settlement with the Ahmadinejad government. Without explanation, the State Department this month pulled funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a New Haven, Connecticut outfit that has been investigating the plight of those Iranians now in the dock, including Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh and Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari.

In his Rose Garden remarks about the Nobel, President Obama spoke about “the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets.” The elliptical reference is almost certainly to 27-year old Neda Agha-Sultan, whose murder last June by one of Ahmadinejad’s goon squads was captured on a video seen around the world. We hope the President keeps in mind that the same people whose good faith he now seeks in negotiations were her killers.”

[Full editorial]


“IT’S AN ODD Nobel Peace Prize that almost makes you embarrassed for the honoree. In blessing President Obama, the Nobel Committee intended to boost what it called his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” A more suitable time for the prize would have been after those efforts had borne some fruit…

The Nobel Committee’s decision is especially puzzling given that a better alternative was readily apparent. This year, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Iran braved ferocious official violence to demand their right to vote and to speak freely. Dozens were killed, thousands imprisoned. One of those killed was a young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan; her shooting by thugs working for the Islamist theocracy, captured on video, moved the world. A posthumous award for Neda, as the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour. Democracy in Iran would not only set a people free, it would also dramatically improve the chances for world peace, since the regime that murdered her is pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.

Announcing Friday that he would accept the award, Mr. Obama graciously offered to share it with “the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets.” But the mere fact that he avoided mentioning either Neda’s name or her country, presumably out of consideration for the Iranian regime with which he is attempting to negotiate, showed the tension that sometimes exists between “diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” on the one hand, and advocacy of human rights on the other. The Nobel Committee could have spared Mr. Obama this dilemma if it had given Neda the award instead of him.”

[Full editorial]


“SHIRIN EBADI, a 62-year-old Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize six years ago, is generally cautious and measured in her speech. She is a human rights lawyer who says that she does not involve herself in politics. She says that it’s not her job to favor one party over another, as long as the government respects people’s right to express themselves. So it was startling this week to hear Ms. Ebadi say bluntly that the Obama administration has gotten some things backward when it comes to Iran. It’s not that engaging with the government is a mistake, she said during a visit to The Post. But paying so much more attention to Iran’s nuclear ambitions than to its trampling of democracy and freedom is a mistake both tactical and moral…”

[Full editorial]

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