29 August 2006

Campaigning for the release of imprisoned Canadian-Iranian writer and scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo

Ramin Jahanbegloo has been imprisoned in a security wing of Evin prison in Iran since his arrest at Tehran airport on 28 April 2006.
Ramin Jahanbegloo has been imprisoned in a security wing of Evin prison in Iran since his arrest at Tehran airport on 28 April 2006.
PEN Canada is leading a campaign to free Ramin Jahanbegloo of Iran, a Canadian-Iranian academic currently imprisoned in Iran. Kristina Stockwood, IFEX Outreach Coordinator, spoke to David Cozac, PEN Canada’s Programmes Coordinator, and Morteza Abdolalian, Editor and Publisher of IRAN WATCH CANADA (www.moriab.blogspot.com).

Q: What is the current status of the Jahanbegloo campaign? Can you give an idea of whom and what is involved?

David Cozac: We are asking IFEX members to sign on to the PEN Canada joint action letter by 15 September, calling for Jahanbegloo’s release. They can also send their own letters of appeal to Iranian authorities or launch their own campaigns. They can engage natural allies in their countries, such as academic associations. We are also calling on as many Centres of International PEN to sign on. PEN Canada is liaising closely with the Canadian government to strategise on effective ways to secure his release. Jahanbegloo is an Honorary Member of PEN Canada, which results in him becoming a focus of our advocacy for imprisoned writers.

PEN Canada is working with the University of Toronto – where Jahanbegloo worked for five years – which itself has launched a spirited campaign to get their former colleague freed. We are planning to approach the Special Rapporteurs of the OSCE and the UN to ask them to issue a joint statement on the detention of Ramin Jahanbegloo.

Q: Why did you choose to do a joint action on this particular case in Iran? What impact are you expecting it to have?

We believe that the Jahanbegloo case is the most pressing free expression issue currently in Iran. For PEN Canada, it also has some eerie similarities to that of Zahra Kazemi . Indeed, Jahanbegloo – also a dual citizen – is detained in Evin Prison, where Kazemi was brutally murdered in 2003. To date, those responsible have yet to be brought to justice. We do not want the same fate to befall Jahanbegloo. In terms of the joint action, PEN Canada believes that it is important for other IFEX members who would not otherwise know about the case to learn about him and about the free expression situation in Iran. We also believe that having the support of an international grouping of free expression organisations would deliver a strong message to the Islamic Republic that the world is watching the Jahanbegloo case very closely.

Q: What are the major pitfalls and barriers to this campaign?

Dealing with the Iranian government is always a delicate matter. If one pushes them too hard on an issue, they will either push back harder or go silent. However, we believe that it is essential to keep the pressure on, primarily because we still have Zahra Kazemi fresh in our mind. We must target our advocacy very carefully to see where we might have the most impact (such as our recent request to meet with Iranian embassy officials in Ottawa.)

A further barrier is the struggle to keep the Jahanbegloo case in the spotlight. He has now spent over three months in detention. It is easy for other events in Iran or elsewhere in the world to receive media coverage, so we must be vigilant to ensure that the spotlight on Jahanbegloo not be turned off.

Q: What are the factors that can ensure that this is successful campaign, through securing Jahanbegloo's release?

Consistent international pressure – from the NGO community, the UN and, especially, foreign governments – is key. Jahanbegloo must not be forgotten. It’s important to keep the human element – Jahanbegloo’s human face – prominent. He is, after all, an esteemed academic and philosopher who has never been a radical.

Q: From your perspective as an Iranian living in Canada, why is this case significant?

Morteza Abdolalian: This case is significant because Ramin Jahanbegloo is a Canadian citizen, a thinker and professor of philosophy at a university in Canada. He is the author of more than twenty books and internationally renowned. He is the second Canadian to be arrested by Iran. Jahanbegloo is now sitting in solitary confinement in Evin prison and no one knows what would be his fate - is he going to be murdered like Zahra Kazemi? This must be stopped and the Canadian government must use every means and the international forum to raise its voice louder for his immediate release.

Professor Jahanbegloo was arrested on 27 April 2006. He has been charged with “espionage “, “contact with foreign individuals” and preparation for the “orange revolution“ in Iran. These are serious charges. The Ministry of Information, the public prosecutor’s office and "Kayhan" newspaper have produced a “confession video film” from Jahanbegloo in Evin prison showing that he confessed to the charges and that he made a mistake and is sorry for what he did. I hope soon he will be released. It takes many years to produce a person like Professor Jahanbegloo and my country and the Middle East needs this type of people badly!

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