Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Prisoner's Desperate Hope, and Brave Words

Luiza Ch. Savage, Macleans:
Two months have passed since the Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo was locked in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was beaten to death in 2003. And Canada is making so little headway in securing his release that his advocates are turning to India, Bangladesh and Tibet for help.

In his own words
An assembly line of mortal destruction
Originally published in Spain's El Pais, Jan. 28, 2006

`The real problem is who we are'
Originally published in Spain's El Pais, Apr. 20, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo: Tehran's prisoner'
He's a noted scholar and a Canadian citizen. Now he's been locked up in Iran, accused of being a foreign agent -- Maclean's, June 12, 2006

The 46-year-old has still not been formally charged but is under relentless interrogation, in what his friends fear is an effort to force a confession to espionage or sedition, a notion they consider outlandish given his philosophy of non-violence and dialogue. Jahanbegloo's Iranian architect wife, Azin, has been granted two brief visits, both in the presence of interrogators. "He is in poor shape and has lost a lot of weight," she told the Inter Press Service news agency. "Even more painful for me and our 10-month-old child is the uncertainty over how long he will be away. We live in desperate hope day after day. The authorities say they haven't yet completed their 'investigations.' Until that happens, he can't even see a lawyer." READ MORE

Jahanbegloo taught at the University of Toronto and Harvard before returning to his homeland in 2002, where he frequently hosted foreign intellectuals. His "contacts with foreigners" have been given as a reason for his arrest. Canada's efforts to see him or get him a lawyer have been rebuffed. "The authorities are refusing us access," said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Marie-Christine Lilkoff. Canadian diplomats are still in contact with Iranian officials, and are "discussing the case with like-minded countries," she said.

"The Canadian ambassador doesn't have great access," says family friend Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization. "Among some elements of the regime, Canada is perceived as enemy No. 1, and a country that can be scorned without fear of repercussion." Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, and Canada's interest in Kazemi's case was seen as an effort to embarrass the regime. "Even the beating death of an innocent photographer they can turn on its head and project themselves as a victim," said Sadjadpour. To succeed, Canada must involve non-Western, Muslim countries, he added. But that does not mean Canada should back down, says another friend, Victoria Tahmasebi, who teaches at York University and UofT. "How many murders do we need to have before we take action?" she asked. "At least they could call back the ambassador, take the case to an international level. They must show us that we are accorded every protection possible as Canadian citizens."

Canadian-Iranian relations took another nasty turn last week when Iran sent a delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva headed by Tehran prosecutor Gen. Saeed Mortazavi, who was responsible for Kazemi's arrest and detention. Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said he was "disgusted" by his presence, which demonstrated Iran's "complete contempt" for human rights.

And then MacKay tried to have Mortazavi arrested. "I spoke to the German foreign ministry about the possibility, under their law or international convention, of detaining Mr. Mortazavi," MacKay told reporters in Quebec City. The Iranian prosecutor would have claimed diplomatic immunity if Canada had moved against him in Geneva, MacKay said, but a stop in Frankfurt might have offered a chance to nab him. In the end, Mortazavi didn't stop on German soil. "But mark my words," MacKay said. "This individual is on notice. If there is any way Canada can bring this person to justice, we'll do it."

The campaign to free Jahanbegloo is now centring on India. Before his arrest at Tehran's airport, Jahanbegloo was teaching at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, and was organizing two Indo-Iranian conferences. The center's faculty has written to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and met with Iran's ambassador to India. There has been no formal response. "When we talked to them they said, 'We don't want to take a harsh view of it. We are aware of his contribution as an intellectual.' But it's double-talk because at the same time they talk about the security interests of the Iranian state. To which I say everything he has done has been in the public domain. There is nothing secretive and nothing conspiratorial about Ramin Jahanbegloo," said the coordinator of the centre's efforts, Suresh Sharma, who is now mobilizing colleagues in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Tibet.

Jahanbeloo's cause got a boost last week from a petition signed by nearly 100 Arabs and Muslims, including a former Iraqi human rights minister, a Jordanian member of parliament, and dozens of Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Saudis, and Egyptians. But there is resistance among some of those who could have the greatest sway on Tehran -- Muslim scholars. "Some people are reluctant to publicize human rights in Iran when Iran is facing pressure on the nuclear issues," said Mansour Bonakdarian, who teaches history at Hofstra University. "They are afraid that too much discussion of human rights in Iran could be exploited by the U.S. and its allies."

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