Iran Arrests Iranian-Americans on Charges of Espionage; CCD Joins in Calls for Their Release
By Daniel Hollingsworth
May 31, 2007 | Printer Friendly
Iran announced on May 30, one day after holding high level talks with the United States, that it has charged three visiting Iranian-Americans with espionage against the Iranian government, a charge that could result in the death sentence. The U.S. State Department also believes that a fourth person is being held. Several news sources, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe are reporting that Iranian-American scholars Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and Kian Tajbakhsh of the Open Society Institute have both been arrested and formally charged. Esfandiari was arrested May 8 after four months of house arrest, and Tajbakhsh was arrested three days later on May 11. Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima has not yet been arrested, but she has also been accused of conspiring against the government and had her passport confiscated upon arrival to Tehran. A fourth American citizen, Ali Shakeri of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine has reportedly been detained, although this has not been confirmed by the Iranian government.
Iran has charged these individuals with having links to organizations seeking to overthrow the Islamic government of the country, a charge denied by the organizations in question. Radio Free Europe has reported on the experience of human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar, jailed in Iran in 2000 on security charges, and Ali Afshari, a former student leader, to express concern over the treatment that the current detainees may face. Kar and Afshari described the harsh treatment they received and the interrogation tactics used to intimidate them into producing false confessions.
Attempts to explain the motives of the Iranian government have produced much speculation in the news media. Thomas Friedman writes in a New York Times op-ed that hard-liners in the government are attempting to short-circuit the dialogue that is emerging between the United States and Iran, and he calls for a combination of tightened economic sanctions and intensified engagement with Iran to resolve the conflict. The Friedman column suggests that the Iranian government is reacting with paranoia, accusing those who attempt to organize a dialogue with subversion.
The BBC reports that the arrests have stirred fears among the people in Iran that any contact they have with foreigners could be used as a basis for spying charges. A New York Times report speculates that the arrests are being made to allow Iran to negotiate the release of at least five Iranians being held in northern Iraq in connection to attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, although U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has insisted that the two issues are not linked.
These events follow the vote in March by the UN Human Rights Council to remove Iran and Uzbekistan from the “1503 Procedure” which allowed the Council to monitor potential human rights violations in the countries. Human Rights Watch called this decision “an endorsement of crackdowns on human rights in Iran and Uzbekistan. It shows utter disregard for the human rights activists who are struggling in these countries.” As the situation has developed, members of the international community, including pro-democracy and human rights organizations, have joined together in calling for the release of these individuals. Websites have been created for both Esfandiari (www.freehaleh.org) and Tajbakhsh (www.freekian.org) to call attention to their situations and to elicit support for their release.
Lee Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, released the following statement:
“Haleh [Esfandiari] is a scholar. The work she does at the Wilson Center is open, non-partisan, and includes a broad range of views. At the Wilson Center, we do not take positions on issues, but rather, we bring all sides of an issue together for dialogue. As director of the Middle East Program, Haleh ensured that there was an open dialogue and that she convened meetings which allowed participants and attendees to discuss all views. We do not engage in propaganda. The Wilson Center receives zero funding from the U.S. government’s fund to promote democracy in Iran. Her detention is an affront to the rule of law and common decency. The Wilson Center’s message to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go.”
The Council for a Community of Democracies joins in support of these efforts to bring about the release of these individuals, and we urge others to add their voice. It is clear to us that the charges brought against these scholars and journalists are baseless, and the Iranian government should act immediately to ensure their safe return.
Voice of America: Washington Denounces Spy Charges against U.S. Citizens
Radio Free Europe: Iran: Concern Grows for Detained Iranian-Americans
BBC: Iranian-Americans Charged with Spying
New York Times: Rice Rejects Link of Iran Arrests and Captures of Guards in Iraq
Human Rights Watch: UN: Rights Council Fails Victims in Iran, Uzbekistan
Wilson Center: Reports from Tehran Indicate that Haleh Esfandiari Has Been Formally Charged with Espionage and Endangering Iranian Security