Iran: Tehran Protests U.S. Treatment Of Would-Be Visitors
protesting the detention and fingerprinting of a group of Iranian academics and
engineers when they tried to enter the United States to attend a scientific
gathering. They all had valid entry visas and were bound for a northern
Californian reunion organized by alumni of Tehran's prestigious Sharif
University of Technology on August 4-6. Iranians living in the United States
have expressed fear that the travellers were victims of rising tensions
between Washington and Tehran.
PRAGUE, August 11, 2006
(RFE/RL) -- Behnam Kamrani was among the Iranian engineers, scientists, and
company executives who traveled to the United States to attend a forum on
disaster management and entrepreneurship in Santa Clara, California.
Kamrani is a Sharif University alumni who currently lives in Sweden and
works for a U.S. company. He told Radio Farda that upon his arrival at
Minneapolis airport, he was simply told his visa has been revoked.
“We had requested a visa, [and] the U.S. Embassy did a background check on
us and gave a positive answer," Kamrani said. "They issued the visa, [and] we
bought a ticket and informed them as to the date on which we would enter the
U.S. Then, when we got to the U.S., everything collapsed. They temporarily
detained and interrogated us and asked us strange questions.”
Despite the nine hours
that Kamrani spent at the airport before being sent back, he considers himself
among the lucky ones.
Academics who had entered the United States
at other ports of entry -- including Los Angeles and San Francisco -- appear to
have faced tougher conditions. Some have described their experience as a
“nightmare,” and said that they had to spend the night in a jail alongside
Kamrani recalls meeting a few of them: “They had
handcuffed them and taken them to a prison. One lady who had two daughters said
they had separated them during the night. The ladies said that a man who was in
charge had told them the next day -- when they were about to be sent back --
that the visas were canceled because it was thought likely that those who come
from Iran might exchange information about the nuclear issue.”
Some of the Iranians claim to have been told that their visas were revoked
due to U.S. national security concerns. They were reportedly given the choice of
withdrawing their applications or being deported.
Some said they
were told that they could not apply for U.S. visas for up to 10 years.
Several of the detainees have said they were insulted and humiliated, and
subjected to what they have described as a harsh treatment.
Conference organizers have
said that more than 50 Iranians in all were refused entry and sent back to
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus declined
to explain the refusals, saying only that "all visa applications are adjudicated
in accordance with the U.S. Immigration And Nationality Act. Each application
for a visa is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis."
Department official Laura Tischler would not comment on specific cases to
RFE/RL, but she noted that U.S. officials are obliged to turn away anyone whose
visa has been revoked.
Tischler suggested that the Iranians'
visas might have been revoked "when they arrived, or when they were in
Caught In Diplomatic
Some observers speculate that the travelers
are victims of growing U.S.-Iranian tensions over the current conflict in
Lebanon and Iran’s refusal to abandon sensitive nuclear activities.
Najmedin Meshkati, a graduate and professor at the University of Southern
California's (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering and an alumni of Sharif
University, told RFE/RL that the treatment the academics received at U.S. hands
has outraged Iranian-Americans.
we'd like to take] concerns the legal aspect -- we want to find out what the
rights of the people who were returned are and what can be done legally. The
other [step] is public relations," Meshkati said. "The third step is to contact
U.S. authorities -- including senators from California -- so the issue is
investigated in the U.S. Congress. If they treat Iranians who visit this country
legally in this heinous manner, then [there is a risk that] there is no
difference for Iranians who live in this country legally. I really think that
enough is enough -- we are really hurt about this disrespect. We should really
stand up to it."
Meshkati said Iranians should not be punished for
the policies of their government.
“I don’t know why Iranians who
travel to the U.S. must pay the price for the Iranian government’s actions," he
said. "Are Saudi citizens paying the price for the actions of [Saudi-born
Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden? No. I don’t understand why everything goes
wrong when it comes to us Iranians.”
The United States cut
diplomatic ties with Iran following that country's Islamic Revolution and the
abduction of U.S. diplomats at its embassy in Tehran in 1979.
limited cultural, scientific, and sports exchanges have continued between the
(Radio Farda correspondent Elaheh Ravanshad
contributed to this report from Sweden; RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher
contributed from Washington, DC.)
My 24h stay in US - Eight of the graduates of SUT and their spouses and I (6 men and 3
women) were traveling by LH454 line on 3rd of Aug which reached there
(San Francisco) at noon. At the first of our entrances two officers checked
the passports of all the passengers, they sent me to the other one who
controlled my visa and checked my name by a list. He told me to stay there.
-Esmaeelzadeh, Sharif University