Thursday, June 01, 2006

Iran should charge or free jailed writer - Canada

David Ljunggren, Reuters:
Canada has asked Iran to either charge or release prominent philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen who was arrested last month on suspicion of espionage, Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said on Thursday.

MacKay also said Canadian diplomats had been repeatedly rebuffed when they sought to contact Jahanbegloo, the first high-profile intellectual arrested since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last June. READ MORE

The case has further soured Canada's already poor relations with Iran, which deteriorated rapidly in 2003 when Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died in custody in Tehran after being arrested.

"I've written directly to the minister of foreign affairs in Iran requesting he in fact put his full attention on this file ... and either produce charges that would result in a legal process or that, preferably, Mr Jahanbegloo be released," MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.

Jahanbegloo, head of the Department for Contemporary Studies at the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran, has lectured on the prospects for democracy in Iran and on whether the Islamic state can engage with the West.

"We have attempted on several occasions to have consular visits. This is very difficult ... there has been no direct contact, that's my understanding," said MacKay.

"Iran does not recognise joint citizenship so they're not in any way acknowledging his Canadian citizenship or connection. In fact, by some bizarre assessment, having Canadian or American or any other foreign connection ... is feeding perhaps the reasons for his detention."

MacKay said Ottawa had received indirect reports that Jahanbegloo had been transferred within the Iranian prison system. Human rights groups frequently complain that Tehran imprisons pro-reform writers, journalists and intellectuals without due legal process.

Canadian legislator and former Harvard academic Michael Ignatieff -- a leading Jahanbegloo supporter who has demanded MacKay take decisive action to settle the matter -- welcomed the minister's comments.

"The Canadian government and the international community as a whole must closely monitor what is happening to Ramin," Ignatieff said in a statement sent to Reuters.

"What is happening to him is a clear violation of human rights and of intellectual freedom. Canada must do all it can to ensure his immediate release, as well as his safety and that of his family."

Last week Iran summoned Canada's ambassador to explain comments by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who condemned Iran over a newspaper report which said Tehran might make religious minorities wear special clothes.

Harper made his comments before the Canadian newspaper in question admitted the story was false.