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Rights Advocate Calls Arrest of Iranian Scholar A Troubling Sign

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on May 4, the deputy director of the Paris-based international Federation of Human Rights and head of the League for Defense Of Human Rights in Iran, Abdolkarim Lahidji, condemned the recent arrest of prominent Iranian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo. He also warned that the detention signals a worsening of Iran's human-rights situation under the government of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Lahidji spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari following a roundtable on human rights at RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague.

Ramin Jahanbegloo (Photo: Newsha Tavakol)
RFE/RL: The arrest [on in late April] of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a noted Iranian scholar and author of several books, in Tehran is causing concern among intellectuals and human-rights advocates. The charges against Jahanbegloo are not clear, but some Iranian officials have suggested that he's been arrested for espionage activities; and a conservative Iranian newspaper on May 4 accused him of having ties to monarchist groups. What is your reaction to his detention and to these charges?
Abdolkarim Lahidji: Of course my reaction is to condemn this arrest, especially with the ridiculous charge of espionage. I have known Ramin Jahanbegloo for the past 30 years; he was among the founders of the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, and he returned to Iran following my recommendation. During all the years he has lived in Iran, he has focused on research and scientific activities; and he even gave up his human rights activities within the League in the Defense Of Human Rights in Iran, and he didn't have any political activity.
I think the arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo is the continuation of other arbitrary arrests in recent months, like the arrest of [lawyer and cofounder of the Tehran-based Center of Human Rights Defenders] Abdolfatah Soltani and all the others who are active in the domain of freedom of thought -- journalists, webloggers, syndicalists, and even bus drivers who merely wanted their salaries. It is very likely that Ramin Jahanbegloo has said something in his interviews at conferences he attended and [authorities] have used it to jail him during days when they think that they could enter talks with Western countries over the nuclear issue. And maybe they want to use different bargaining tools to get some concessions -- maybe tomorrow one of their tools will be the release of Ramin Jahanbegloo in exchange for demands they might have from the international community.
RFE/RL: You mentioned pressure on political and cultural activists and also workers and human rights advocates in Iran. These groups have always faced pressure. But some observers believe that since the government of President Ahmadinejad has come to power, the situation in terms of freedom of expression and human rights in general has deteriorated. Do you share this view?
Lahidji: It is obvious that -- especially in the past year, since the election of the new president -- the situation of human rights and arbitrary arrests in Iran has worsened; and it is not only in connection with human-rights activists, but also those Iranian minorities who demand cultural freedoms, including Kurds and Arabic-speaking Iranians in the Khozestan region. The arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo is one of the cases that shows that during the past year, human rights has worsened in Iran more than before; and, in my opinion, it if has not deteriorated further it's because that state pressure in Iran has reached its climax and it cannot go further -- meaning that the government of Ahmadinejad, like the governments before him, has to respect some minimums: They detained Abdolfatah Soltani in solitary confinement for four months in the worst conditions, but they were finally forced to release him. I hope that Ramin Jahanbegloo will also be freed as soon as possible. I also hope that Iranian people, despite the intense policies of the Islamic Republic, will not forever cross out efforts for better human rights and democracy.
RFE/RL: Despite all the pressure, we see that some citizens and groups in Iran are fighting for their rights and democracy, including women and students. What is your assessment of their work?
Lahidji: I believe that despite the pressure that has existed in recent years -- specifically since the 2000 parliamentary elections, in which the conservatives lost their control over the parliament and also in the government because of the presence of Mohammad Khatami as the president -- unfortunately, the situation of human rights has gone backward instead of going forward. But on the other one hand, [authorities] have not been able to completely stop all [reform and democratization] activities, because there are groups in Iran that are active for their rights -- maybe more for their social rights than political rights. And now we even see that economic rights have become an issue, for example, in connection with workers' demands and also activities in universities and among students. Fortunately some parts of society have kept their dynamism, and this is a cause for optimism and hope that Iranian society will not get engaged in a usual or short-term [apathy] and that the thing that the Islamic establishment hopes for will not happen.
RFE/RL: You have been fighting for the improvement of the human-rights situation of Iran for more than three decades. What has been your lowest point? What is your worst memory?
Lahidji: My worst memory is from the early 1980s, when every day dozens of people were being executed in Iran; and in the 1980s, when thousands of people were executed in Iran merely because of their political, social, and religious activities. In my opinion, this is one of the darkest pages in Iran's modern history."
RFE/RL: And what is your best memory?
Lahidji: My best memory is the victory of human-rights defenders in Iran with the receiving of the Nobel Peace Prize by my dear friend and colleague, Shirin Ebadi.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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