Thursday, September 20, 2007


Iran Frees One Detainee as Another Family Waits in Hope

September 20, 2007


Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American urban planner with ties to the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation, was released from prison in Tehran overnight, said Laura Silber, a spokeswoman for the institute.

There were no immediate details of any conditions linked to his release but he was reunited with his wife at home in Tehran, Ms. Silber said.

Mr. Tajbakhsh was one of four Iranian-Americans who had been detained in recent months but an Iranian judge had promised his wife, Bahar Malek, who is nine months’ pregnant, that he would be home in time for her delivery.

Two women, Haleh Esfandiari, an academic, and Parnaz Azima, a reporter for Radio Farda, the Persian-language arm of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, had already been released from prison and allowed to leave the country.

But yesterday was the 134th day since Ali Shakeri, a 59-year-old real estate and mortgage broker in Orange County, Calif., was seized by Iranian security agents just as he was boarding a flight for home.

His son, Kaveh Shakeri, said yesterday that every time he asked his mother whether there had been any word about his father, she reminded him of the number of days his father had been held in solitary confinement in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison.

“She always knows exactly,” Mr. Shakeri said in a telephone interview from his parents’ home in Lake Forest, Calif. “She worries on an hourly basis.”

Under Iranian law, the family’s lawyer in Tehran told them, he should have been either charged or let go after four months in jail, which passed Tuesday, said the younger Mr. Shakeri, 27.
But there has been no word from the Iranian judiciary, which has released far less information about Mr. Shakeri than it did about three others.

The Shakeri family has stayed mostly silent at the request of Mr. Shakeri himself. But the lack of any movement by Iran is now prompting Kaveh Shakeri, a lawyer, to speak out.

Tehran accused Mrs. Esfandiari and Mr. Tajbakhsh of trying to undermine national security by encouraging a “velvet revolution” against the government. But a judiciary spokesman has said that although Mr. Shakeri was arrested at the same time, his case is different.

The arrests ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Tehran, already strained by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology and by American accusations of Iranian efforts to fan violence inside Iraq. That has prompted some calls for the United States to bar President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the General Assembly meeting in New York next week. But the younger Mr. Shakeri said he hoped the Iranian leader would attend so he could be confronted about the fate of the imprisoned Americans.

The elder Mr. Shakeri is a founding member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine, and his biography on its Web page identifies him as a democracy advocate. But he was not seeking government change in Iran, his son said. Rather, he pushed the idea “that there should be no violent aggression between the two countries, there should be channels of communication,” Kaveh Shakeri said.

Mr. Shakeri attended the University of Texas and has lived in the United States since 1981. He left for Iran on March 14 to visit his ailing mother, who died while he was there. The family’s only contact has been four brief phone calls, as well as two prison visits by a relative in Tehran.
During the first call, on May 10, a week after his arrest, Mr. Shakeri “was extremely hyper and scatterbrained,” his son said. “All he said was that he had been detained and not to tell anyone he was being questioned, to tell people he was in France and he would be home in a couple weeks.”
One of his brothers was allowed to visit him on May 15 and again on July 2. During the second visit, prison officials told the brother to collect bail of about $110,000 by putting up a property deed. He did, but after that the case slipped onto a frustrating bureaucratic treadmill. The family’s last contact was a brief telephone call on Aug. 27.

“He was extremely tired and very weak and depressed,” Kaveh Shakeri said. His father seemed shaken to have been held in solitary confinement for so long, he said.

“You had this hope this whole time that it was a mistake, that they will do the investigation and they will realize that my dad was not a national security threat at all,” Kaveh Shakeri said. “We really know nothing.”

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