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Dariush Zahedi, an Iranian-American caught in the infighting of Iran's Information Ministry and Judiciary

By Ali Moayedian

Disturbing news emerged out of Iran last Friday. Dariush Zahedi [1], an Iranian-American political science lecturer at California's UC Berkeley and Santa Clara University has been arrested during a visit to Iran and is being held in secret solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison.


Zahedi traveled to Iran in early June to visit his family. While details of his arrest are not public, from what we have gathered, he was arrested around end of June or beginning of July by Iran's Information Ministry and charged with spying for US. Zahedi was ordered held in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran while his case was being investigated. Upon completion of the investigations about 40 days later, the Information Ministry dropped the charges against Zahedi and he was transferred out of solitary cell while his case was being reviewed by the Judiciary. However, about 10 days after that Zahedi was ordered back in solitary confinement as the Judiciary officials rejected Information Ministry's assertion that he was innocent and should be released.

Zahedi has joined other advocates of improving relations between Iran and US, such as Abbas Abdi and Hussein Ghazian. Abdi and Ghazian were jailed last year for conducting a poll that showed majority of Iranians want better relations with US. In other words they dared to express the obvious!

Darius Zahedi has served as the director of West Coast operations of the American Iranian Council (AIC). of American Iranian Council . AIC has been of the most vocal advocates of Iranian-American rapprochement and has brought together Iranians and Americans, including government officials, many times in the past to engage in positive discussions. And this has of course has angered the people who think their survival is dependent on hostilities between Iran and US.

It's interesting to note that there are two camps hard at work to prevent the normalization of relations between Iran and US. These are the fundamentalist hardliners in Iran and the pro-Israeli Jewish lobbyists in US. These two camps, who are supposedly sworn enemies too, are hard at work to thwart any attempts to bring Iran and US closer together.

Zahedi's case also point to a very disturbing trend. Last year Iranian-American dancer Mohammad Khordadian was arrested and thrown in Evin for engaging in "immoral acts." He was then tried and sentenced to living in Iran! While Khordadian's sentence was eventually revoked and he was allowed to leave Iran, the news of his ordeal raised huge concerns among the Iranian-American community who suddenly felt insecure visiting their own homeland.

But 2003 brought a much worse tragedy. Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested in Tehran in July. She then suffered injuries in the hands of interrogators (polite title for torturers!), went into a coma and eventually died in a hospital in Tehran. Zahra Kazemi's "fault" was that she was too courageous and daring. She was interviewing and photographing relative of the student protestors in the waiting room of Evin prison. Evin is the most notorious prison in Iran which is mainly reserved for political activists. Or maybe Kazemi took reform in Iran too seriously and didn't realize that there are still others there who take "defending the revolution" too seriously and won't hesitate to kill to protect their empire, and as it's evident by the "serial murder" case, they can get away with murder too!

Iran's Information Ministry works more closely with the President, while the Judiciary is controlled by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. There is open enmity between these two offices, and Zahra Kazemi's case has intensified the battle between them each accusing the other of being responsible for her killing. And early indications are that, just like the "serial murder" case, there is no hope of bringing the real killers to justice as the "justice" may be the one responsible for her killing to begin with! And now there is a danger that Dariush Zahedi has become another pawn in the battle between the Information Ministry and Judiciary. It won't be too unrealistic to think that perhaps the Judiciary is keeping Zahedi as a hostage in their bigger battle with the Information Ministry and may perhaps release him in exchange for securing immunity for judge Said Mortazavi who is rumored to be the real killer of Kazemi.

If Khordadian's case raised concerns of Iranian expatriates, the case of Zahra Kazemi caused alarm bells go off and sent shivers in the Iranian communities abroad. And now Zahedi's case is the talk of town. If the officials of Information Ministry and Judiciary are trying to send a message to the Iranian expatriates that they are not welcome in Iran, they are certainly succeeding. These ugly incidents will certainly remain in memories for a long time to come and cause the expatriates to think hard before deciding to travel to Iran or to engage in any activities there. And these will further damage Iran's image in the eyes of the world.

Many Iranians had hoped a lot more from the reformist camp, including President Khatami. Unfortunately, Khatami time and again has shown that he is no more than a ghost of a president. He is everywhere, and he is nowhere. He says a lot of good things about freedom, democracy and rule of love. But his words must carry no weight, as they pass through hardliners leaving no trace of shattering behind! And Khatami is not the only ghost in the reform camp either. The whole reform camp looks like a party of ghosts! And those who turn into real people are easily bounded behind the thick walls of Evin. This is today's reality of Iran. There is no one to turn to except ghosts for help!

So today I'm going to ask Iran's ghost of President to become real for a change. Dear Mr. Khatami, Please intervene on behalf of Dariush Zahedi. Do not let this dignified and distinguished professor languish in Evin for even one more day. Do something to make us all proud of you. Tell us that you care for us! We are proud of Shirin Ebadi, not because she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but for the fact that she has dared to face darkness and fight it. It's time for you to assert yourself strongly and demand what rightfully belongs to you and the other Iranians, the right to be a REAL president!


1. Dariush Zahedi is director of the West Coast operations of the American Iranian Council (AIC). Chaired by former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, AIC is a nonprofit educational organization devoted to improving relations between the US and Iran. Zahedi is the author of The Iranian Revolution Then and Now: Indicators of Regime Instability (Westview Press, 2000) and the editor of Iran in the New Millennium: Opportunities and Challenges (AIC, 2001). He has been a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and has previously taught at the University of Southern California and Santa Clara University. His articles have appeared in such journals as Middle East Policy and the Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review. (source: University of Californian at Berkeley)


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