Tehran Arrests Iranian-Canadian Academic on Spying Charges
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CAIRO, Egypt – The arrest and detention of one of Iran’s leading philosophers is sending a chill among Iran’s intellectuals and democratic activists, suggesting a new crackdown as the regime continues to defy the United Nations on its uranium enrichment program.
On Wednesday, Iran’s justice ministry confirmed they had arrested Ramin Jahanbegloo at Tehran Airport on April 27 on vague espionage charges. Mr. Jahanbegloo, who holds both Canadian and Iranian citizenship, taught between 1997 and 2001 at the University of Toronto. Mr. Jahanbegloo is being held at Evin Prison, the notorious Tehran facility that also housed author and dissident leader Akbar Ganji.
The arrest of Mr. Jahanbegloo comes after Mr. Ganji was released in April along with other political prisoners granted amnesty for the Persian new year, Nowrouz. Mr. Jahanbegloo has translated the works of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. He also founded the journal Dialogue, to which Mr. Ganji contributed.
Despite these credentials, a former colleague at Toronto University says Mr. Jahanbegloo was not particularly political in his writings and activities.”They have come up with a cooked-up charge of espionage and contact with counterrevolutionary forces outside of Iran,” Mohammed Tavakoli said yesterday.
“He represents a new trend in Iran that is cosmopolitan and not antagonistic to European traditions. He has been one of the proponents of a dialogue of civilization. He has talked extensively on [Martin Luther] King and Gandhi and its applicability to modern Iran. But he has not been actively involved with the political opposition.”
The concept of a “dialogue of civilizations,” was popularized by former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami – who delivered a speech in 2000 at the United Nations with that title, which the Clinton State Department interpreted as an opening for back-channel diplomacy. But Mr. Khatami, who was elected in 1997 as a reformer, never delivered on promises to allow a freer press or empower the elected legislature. By the end of his second term in 2005, he had made enemies of both the regime’s ruling clerics and the student movement.
The arrest of Mr. Jahanbegloo is similar to the arrest of the opinion pollster Abbas Abdi in December 2002, who was close to Mr. Khatami and perceived as untouchable. But his trial, where he was accused of spying by conducting a poll that found most Iranians favored more contact with the West, sent a chilling message that not even well connected reformer politicians were immune from the whims of the judiciary.
“Ramin Jahanbegloo, he is a secular intellectual, taught philosophy inside the country. He is popular with a group of university students. He was very academic and his arrest came as a shock and surprise to us. My take is that the regime will try to use him in order to create fear in the community and make other arrests based on confessions. They will try to get him to name people who should not be named,” an Iranian activist in Connecticut, Ramin Ahmadi, said yesterday.
A senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork, yesterday condemned the arrest. “Iran’s Judiciary is notorious for coercing confessions by means of torture and ill treatment,” he said. “We hold the Iranian government entirely responsible for Jahanbegloo’s well being.”