Renowned Iranian-Canadian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested in Tehran by Iranian authorities this past May under suspicion of espionage. He has been in detention for close to two months now without access to a lawyer and without any formal charges being laid against him. Jehanbegloo had returned to Tehran just days before his arrest after completing a four month professorship at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in New Delhi.
Canadian authorities have thus far been unable to secure Jahanbegloo’s release:
OttawaÂ’s campaign to have him either formally charged or released has consisted mainly of stern letters from Foreign Minister Peter MacKay to the Iranian minister of foreign affairs, and futile entreaties. A letter co-signed by the EU, which has greater diplomatic and economic ties to Tehran, protested the lack of due process, the fact that no charges have been laid, and that he has not been granted a lawyer. But it has made no difference. Canada has not been allowed consular visits. “Iran does not recognize joint citizenship, so theyÂ’re not in any way acknowledging his Canadian citizenship or connection,” MacKay said. “In fact, by some bizarre assessment, having Canadian or American or any other foreign connection is feeding perhaps the reasons for his detention.” [Link]
In addition to his visiting professorship at CSDS, Jahanbegloo recently published a book of dialogues with Indian thinker Ashis Nandy. Given his close ties to India, Jahanbegloo’s arrest has raised serious concern among his colleages there. CSDS director Suresh Sharma wrote an appeal to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in May:
The letter recalled that Jehanbegloo was invited by CSDS, a constituent of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, as part of its project “to formulate and reflect alternative imageries concerning politics, political-social theory and democracy,” in particular, democracy “as a universal human questÃ and not as something that simply could not belong to the world beyond Europe-America.”
The letter says that Jehanbegloo “immensely enhanced our sensitivity and knowledge of Iranian society and civilisation. Our engagement and concern for Iran goes beyond and deeper than the exigencies of current politics. The presence and participation of Ramin Jehanbegloo in intellectual life in India has brought to bear a civilisational vantage of rare quality. It has helped create the basis of a conversation between civilisations upon some of the most difficult and grave questions of our time.” [Link]
Iran’s response to this letter was disheartening:
“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. [Link]
In 2003 Zahra Kazemi, also an Iranian-Canadian, was arrested for taking pictures during a demonstration in Iran. She was raped, tortured and ultimately beaten to death in the same Evin prison where Jahanbegloo is now imprisoned. Canada-Iran relations are currently rough at best. So it is a small relief to see Jahanbegloo’s friends in South Asia being vocal about his arrest. Not only is Iran’s accusation that Jahanbegloo kept improper “foreign contacts” unacceptable from every angle but it is also insulting to all those he worked with around the world.