Friday, October 23, 2009


Amnesty International: Iranian-American Scholar Sentenced to 15 Years in a Judicial Travesty

Brief Introduction

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in the 12 June presidential elections in Iran, there were widespread protests against the contested election results. The Iranian authorities responded with violence and repression. Dozens of people were reportedly killed and many more injured in violent assaults by Basij paramilitary and riot police. The government has reported that about 4,000 people had been arrested; several hundred remain in detention. Academic and dual Iran-U.S. national Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested at his home in Tehran on 9 July. Kian Tajbakhsh, a 47-year-old social scientist who taught urban policy at the New School University in New York and who consulted for George Soros’ Open Society Institute, was arrested on the night of 9 July by agents of the Security Police. His family was not notified of the place where he was being detained. His arrest was first announced on the Iranian state-sponsored English language Press TV on 13 July when it was alleged that he was “cooperating” with Hossein Rassam, the head of the Security and Political Division of the British Embassy in Tehran in orchestrating the post-12 June election protests. He had been held in solitary confinement and subjected to prolonged interrogations for about three months.

On Saturday 1 August Kian Tajbakhsh was among the more than 100 people who were brought to trial before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, accused of organizing the post-election protests, of having links with armed opposition groups, and of “conspiring against the ruling system.” Among those being tried were political opposition figures—including senior officials from former President Mohammad Khatami’s government—journalists and academics. Kian Tajbakhsh and Maziar Bahari, a Canadian-American journalist who worked for Newsweek magazine, were the only two dual nationals on trial. Kian Tajbakhsh spoke at the 25 August session of the trial, saying that the U.S. and European countries had a goal of trying to bring change inside Iran.

Om 20 October, Kian Tajbakhsh’s court-appointed lawyer Houshang Azhari announced that Tajbakhsh had received a prison sentence of at least twelve years. Subsequent reports indicate that he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Charges against Tajbakhsh included espionage, co-operation with an enemy government, and acting against national security. The charges against him included being a consultant for the Open Society Institute, which the indictment identifies as a CIA satellite institution devoted to fomenting “velvet revolutions” in Iran and elsewhere, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency. He was also charged with belonging to an e-mail list Gulf/2000 run by Gary Sick, a professor at Columbia University, whom the indictment identifies as a CIA agent.

Amnesty International has consistently criticized Iran’s Revolutionary Courts for their failure to adhere to international standards for fair trials. Confessions extracted under torture or duress are routinely admitted as evidence in the proceedings in these courts. Kian Tajbakhsh and his co-defendants were at risk of torture and ill-treatment during their incommunicado detention, held without access to their families or their lawyers.


Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
via website: (English)

Minister of the Interior
Mostafa Mohammad Najjar
Ministry of the Interior
Dr Fatemi Avenue
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 8 896 203
+98 21 8 899 547
+98 21 6 650 203
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: Email: Via website: 1st starred box: your given name; 2sd starred box: your family name; 3rd: your email address

Salutation: Your Excellency

Sample Letter

Your Excellency:

I am writing to you to express my concern about the case of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh who was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Charges against him reportedly included espionage, co-operation with an enemy government, and acting against national security.

Mr. Tajbakhsh was one of over 100 people brought to trial before a Revolutionary Court and accused of inciting the protests over the contested 12 June Iranian presidential election. Mr. Tajbakhsh had been arrested on 9 July and was held incommunicado, in solitary confinement for about three months and was reportedly subjected to lengthy interrogations.

International human rights organizations have consistently criticized Iran’s Revolutionary Courts for their failure to adhere to international standards for fair trials. Mr. Tajbakhsh and his co-defendants were not permitted the lawyers of their choice and were not allowed to adequately defend themselves against the vague charges brought against them.

Kian Tajbakhsh is a prisoner of conscience, persecuted solely because of his peaceful academic work. I strongly urge that the conviction of Kian Tajbakhsh be overturned and that he be immediately and unconditionally released from prison. I also urge that any trials held for those arrested in connection with the post-election protests conform to internationally accepted standards and that confessions extracted under torture or duress are not admitted as evidence. Thank you very much for your attention.

Background Information

Kian Tajbakhsh was one of four Iranian-Americans detained in Iran for several months in 2007 and charged with attempting to foment a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic Republic. He was arrested on 11 May 2007 and held in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran, where he was not granted access to his family or a lawyer. He was released on 19 September 2007 on a bail of one billion Rials (about $110,000). He was accused of “acting against national security by engaging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic by spying on behalf of foreigners.”

The other three Iranian-Americans detained were Haleh Esfandiari, the Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, Parnaz Azima, a journalist with Radio Farda, the Persian language service run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist from California.

In July 2007 Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari appeared on an Iranian National TV program called “In the Name of Democracy” in which they made statements that were characterized as indicating their involvement in trying to incite a “velvet revolution” to overthrow the government. Kian Tajbakhsh stated that “[the role] of the Soros Center after the collapse of Communism was to focus on the Islamic world” and that “I was giving consultation to Soros about the social and political affairs of Iran,” and that he sought to “create a conflict between the government and the people.” The use of statements by Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari on television was condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Kian Tajbakhsh remained in Iran after his release in September 2007, living in Tehran with his Iranian wife and baby daughter.

The recent “show trials” before the Revolutionary Court have resulted in sentences against other individuals, although the prison sentence imposed against Kian Tajbakhsh is the lengthiest so far. Saeed Hajjarian, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, was given a five-year suspended sentence. Shahab Tabatabai and Hedayat Aghaie, both reformist politicians, were each sentenced to five years in prison. Masoud Bastani, a journalist, received a five-year prison sentence. Three individuals were also sentenced to death in connection with the post-election protests. One of them, Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, was sentenced to death after his conviction for “Moharebeh” or “enmity against God” for his membership in a banned organization advocating the restoration of the Monarchy in Iran.

Saleh Nikbakht, a lawyer representing Mohammad Ali Abtahi and other defendants, complained that, "I have not had access to the prosecution case files at any point since the arrest of my clients. I was not aware of the trial until 11am [the day the trial opened]. And I did not get permission to enter the court room." According to article 135 of the Iranian constitution, trials held without lawyers being present are illegal. The only media organization permitted to cover the court proceedings was the Fars News Agency, linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

On 6 August Amnesty International wrote to the former Head of the Judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, asking him to allow the organization to send an observer to the trial in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, but has received no response.

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