Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Profs Petition for Release of Iranian-Canadian Scholar

Paras D. Bhayani, The Harvard Crimson:
Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, arrested on unspecified charges in Tehran this past April, is getting some help from his former Harvard colleagues—several of whom are petitioning for his release. READ MORE

A Sorbonne-educated scholar, Jahanbegloo served as a fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies in the 1998-1999 academic year.

Though Iranian officials have been mum about whether Jahanbegloo has been charged with any crimes, Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei suggested at a news conference earlier this month that the scholar had worked on behalf of American interests.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is one of the people who was arrested in line with the U.S. effort to instigate velvet and soft revolution in Iran,” Mohseni-Ejei said, according to the Iranian Student’s News Agency. “Mr. Jahanbegloo had an assignment and the intelligence apparatus became suspicious at the scale of his activities and resources.”

After being detained on the grounds of the Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, Jahanbegloo was imprisoned at the notorious Evin prison, the same prison that Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested for allegedly photographing in 2003. Kazemi died after 19 days in Iranian custody, setting off a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Tehran.

Since 2002, Jahanbegloo has served as the head of the Cultural Research Bureau, a non-governmental think-tank in Tehran.


Iran’s assertion that Jahanbegloo is a subversive drew ridicule from his Harvard friends, all of whom remember him as a soft-spoken, apolitical scholar who admired Gandhi.

[Jahanbegloo is] not only intellectually outstanding but also a staunch advocate of non-violence and an able spokesperson for the great cultural wealth of the Iranian tradition,” said the petition—circulated by Gurney Professor of History Roy W. P. Mottahedeh ’60—that called for Jahanbegloo’s release. “Knowing his character we very much doubt that he has committed any crime.”

In an interview with The Crimson, Mottahedeh, who is also a fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said that it is very improbable that he committed any crime by international legal standards.”

This sentiment was echoed by Divinity School Dean William A. Graham, a signer of the petition, who said that he was “baffled as [to] why anyone would feel this man should be imprisoned.”

I know his deep love for philosophy and the humanities, his interest in Gandhi, for instance, and I find it hard to imagine him as a threat to this Iranian regime or any other,” Graham said.

Emran Qureshi, a fellow at Harvard Law School who also signed the petition, called the charges against Jahanbegloo “lurid,” adding that “Jahanbegloo is a philosopher and apolitical academic.”

“He’s simply a cosmopolitan intellectual that represents the very best of the Iranian tradition,” Qureshi said. “He struck me as a contemplative, quiet-spoken public intellectual.”

Other Harvard academics who signed the petition include Meyer Professor of Middle East History E. Roger Owen and Jacqueline Bhabha, the executive director of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies.


Late last month, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter G. MacKay told The Globe and Mail—the Toronto-based daily that is often considered Canada’s newspaper-of-record—that his government has been attempting to negotiate Jahanbegloo’s release.

“The difficulty is Iran has been literally non-responsive to the approaches,” MacKay said. “Whether it be...Jahanbegloo, who is currently in custody, [or] the previous engagements by the previous government on the Kazemi case, their government has simply chosen to ignore those advances.”

Qureshi, the Law School fellow, said that since Jahenbegloo has been held on what he characterized as false charges, it is up to academics everywhere to ensure that he is released.

“The idea that he is a subversive is absurd,” Qureshi said. “And Harvard should rally behind him.”

—Intern Masuma Ahuja contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at pbhayani@fas.harvard.edu.