Saturday, May 06, 2006

Canadian Academic in Iranian Prison Clinic

Graham Fraser, The Toronto Star:
Iranian-Canadian academic Ramin Jahanbegeloo has been hospitalized for a medical condition, not for any mistreatment in prison, a friend said yesterday. Jahanbegeloo, who was recently arrested and detained in Tehran, has been hospitalized in the prison clinic, Shahram Kholdi, a Canadian-Iranian who studied under Jahanbegeloo at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star.

"Ramin is hypoglycemic," said Kholdi, now a graduate teaching fellow at the University of Manchester, England. "That's why he was hospitalized. There was a decrease in his blood sugar."

Jahanbegeloo, who has joint Canadian and Iranian citizenship, taught at U of T for several years. Kholdi took courses from him while doing his master's degree in political science.

"He was a very approachable teacher, very engaging and extremely popular," Kholdi said, adding that many students had expressed support for his staying at U of T, but Jahanbegeloo had decided there was a lot of work to be done in Iran.

"He is a philosopher of non-violence," he said, pointing out he had done his Ph.D. thesis on Mahatma Gandhi. "He has practised what he preached. That is why we were caught off-guard when he was arrested." READ MORE

Maryam Aghvami, a Toronto friend, stressed that Jahanbegeloo was not a partisan person.

"He wasn't political at all," she said. "He wasn't affiliated with any group or party. He was into ... very civil and non-violent ways to democracy for Iran. He loves Iran."

Reports that he had been hospitalized led many to fear he might have been mistreated while in custody. Canadians are still haunted by the memory of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in July 2003 after having been taken into custody in Tehran. A doctor who saw her testified later he had seen unmistakable signs of torture.

News of Jahanbegeloo's arrest emerged after he failed to show up a week ago at a conference in Belgium. Those who know him and are familiar with the approach the Iranian regime has taken toward those it sees as a threat have been walking on eggshells, trying to ensure their comments do not make his situation worse.

Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), a friend of Jahanbegeloo, stressed he must not be seen as a dissident.

"Ramin went back to Iran because he loves his country," he told the Star. "He can't be construed as an enemy of the regime, or in the service of a foreign country. ... It's a million miles from the truth."

He said Jahanbegeloo works for a non-governmental organization that specializes in promoting dialogue between Persian and non-Persian culture.

Jason Kenney, the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said yesterday he could not reveal any information about the case.

"We are in contact with the Iranian officials. It's a delicate matter," he told reporters. "Canadians can rest assured that this government will actively and appropriately defend the interests of Canadians abroad ... but we're being very careful not to discuss details both for reasons of prudence as well as Privacy Act reasons."

Additional articles by Graham Fraser