Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Iranian writer's detention sparks broader worries


An Iranian philosopher and writer who also holds Canadian citizenship has been detained for three weeks without formal charges, raising concerns that his arrest could signal a move toward greater repression of intellectuals.

The academic, Ramin Jahanbegloo, was arrested at Tehran airport late last month as he headed to Brussels, Belgium, to attend a conference sponsored by the German Marshall Fund. He had just returned from a six-month teaching program in India.

A few days after the arrest, security officers took Jahanbegloo to his home and searched it, removing his computer.

Minister of Information Mohsen Ejei told reporters this month that he was arrested because of "his contacts with foreigners." On Monday, the daily newspaper Jomhouri Eslami, which is close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Jahanbegloo "an element of the United States who was part of the plot to overthrow the regime under the guise of intellectual work by peaceful means."

Jahanbegloo, who has delivered lectures on the prospects for democracy in Iran, wrote nearly 20 books in English, French and Persian on culture and philosophy. He studied at the Sorbonne and at Harvard, and is now the director of contemporary studies at Iran's Cultural Research Bureau and an advocate of nonviolence and intercultural dialogue.

Jahanbegloo's wife and mother have declined to talk to reporters in an effort to avoid complicating his case.

The arrest coincided with a crackdown on student advocates. A court has issued a suspended five-year sentence for Abdullah Momeni, a student leader, and an 18-month sentence for Mehdi Aminzadeh, another leader. Each was accused of being part of the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2002 during which students demanded the release of Hashem Aghajari, who received a death sentence after questioning the authority of high-ranking clerics.

However, he has been arrested by the Ministry of Information, unlike the others, who were arrested by the judiciary. His arrest was a shock since he was not involved in activism and had advocated dialogue and tolerance in his writings.

Momeni said the arrest of Jahanbegloo made sense only as an effort to frighten dissidents.

"He was just a university professor and intellectual who advocated philosophical theories," he said. "He had no access to any classified information."

"It seems that the authorities want to intimidate free thinkers and professors," he added. "They do not want intellectuals to have the freedom to advocate secular and democratic theories which can lay the foundation for democracy."

The arrest has further strained relations between Canada and Iran, which soured after an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was killed in detention in the notorious Evin prison in 2003.

Jahanbegloo is also in Evin, in solitary confinement in Section 209, an area controlled by the Ministry of Information, people familiar with his case say. Former prisoners said people held in this section received better treatment than those in the section controlled by the judiciary.

Jahanbegloo told his family during the few telephone calls he was allowed that he was being treated well and fed well.

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