PRAGUE, September 1, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A prominent Iranian philosopher has emerged from four months of detention with claims that he was an unwitting victim of U.S. efforts to undermine the Iranian government. Ramin Jahanbegloo told the official ISNA news agency that contacts with Western individuals and organizations had led to his being duped into "political" rather than philosophical work. Jahanbegloo, whose cause was taken up by rights activists after his arrest in late April, also insisted repeatedly that he had not been abused during his detention. But a record of scripted confessions aimed at intimidating critics of the Iranian leadership begs questions about Jahanbegloo's sincerity.
Within hours of his release on August 30, Jahanbegloo was admitting to ISNA that he unknowingly acted against Iran's interests. He said he had written articles for websites that had ties to "security agents." He also said U.S. and Israeli security agents were present at conferences he had attended.
Jahanbegloo, a prominent writer on democratization, said that during his prison term he felt U.S. organizations had put him in an uncomfortable position. He said he sees himself as a victim, and added that he "deviated" from philosophical research toward "political work."
Jahanbegloo accepted that he had "acted against national security through contacts with foreigners." But he noted that had not been charged with espionage.
Ostensibly voluntary confessions by dissidents during detention or shortly after their release are a common occurrence in the Islamic republic.
Iranian writer and journalist Faraj Sarkouhi issued similar statements several years ago. He tells Radio Farda from his exile abroad that authorities use such interviews to lend weight to "false" charges.
"In these interviews, they determine certain angles for the accused or victim, so that he talks about them in the interview," Sarkouhi says. "This is exactly like the interview security officials forced me to do at the airport. They had brought me from prison, but they were claiming that I had just returned from a trip to Germany."
'We Don't Know'
Payam Akhavan is a professor of international law at Montreal's McGill University and a former UN war crimes prosecutor at The Hague. He is part of a group of academics that appealed for Jahanbegloo's release.
Akhavan says he saw signs that authorities had stage-managed Jahanbegloo's interview.
He tells RFE/RL that the interview should be seen in the context of the four months that Jahanbegloo spent at Tehran's Evin prison.
"Even if he was not physically tortured, prolonged solitary confinement qualifies as a form of psychological torture -- sensory deprivation, being in a confined space where a light is on 24 hours a day [and] where you have no contact with the outside world. You lose your sense of day and night. This can seriously disorient people. And we also don't know yet what threats, coercion, or inducements he might have received while in prison."
Akhavan speculates that the statements could be part of a deal forced on Jahanbegloo to win his release.
"I believe there has been a deal here that he would perhaps make a confession and perhaps refrain from certain activities in exchange for being released from prison. Part of the deal, I suspect, is that he not speak with the foreign press -- or at least if he speaks, he would not say anything different from his confessions."
Jahanbegloo said in his interview that he had to surrender the deeds of two homes as bail, and that his case is still before Tehran's Revolutionary Court.
While he said his life behind bars had been difficult, Jahanbegloo repeated several times that he had not been subjected to physical or psychological pressure. He said his interrogators had treated him "politely."
Jahanbegloo, who was arrested at Tehran airport in late April, said his contacts with foreigners began in the late 1990s after he went from Canada to Harvard University.
He singled out a scholarship with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and claimed the chain of events leading to his arrest began when he went to Washington for the 2001-02 academic year.
His said his contacts with U.S. institutions led to meetings with individuals from the U.S. State Department.
Jahanbegloo also warned that other members of Iranian academia and civil society are in danger of falling into the same trap. He claimed that invitations to conferences, grants, and contact with American institutions are a slippery slope that threatens Iranian national interests.
Sending A Message
For the exiled writer Sarkouhi, the message the Islamic establishment wanted to convey with Jahanbegloo's confession is clear.
"Intellectuals and academics and those involved in cultural activities should avoid cultural contacts with the world's cultural institutions -- otherwise they will face the same fate that Mr. Jahanbegloo faced," Sarkhouhi says.
Jahanbegloo a Harvard- and Sorbonnes-educated philosopher, has published more than 20 books in English, French, and Persian.
Hundreds of prominent Iranian and Western intellectuals and several human rights organizations had called for his release.
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