Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested and put on trial in the course of the crackdown that followed mass protests over the results of Iran's June presidential election. When he was given a 15-year prison sentence, his mother says Tajbakhsh and his family were shocked. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari, Farideh Gerami talks about her son's plight.
RFE/RL: When was the last time you were able to visit your son, Kian Tajbakhsh, in prison?
Farideh Gerami: I visited my son at Evin prison on Thursday [December 10], along with his wife and daughter Hasti, who is about two months old.
RFE/RL: How is your son doing in prison and what conditions is he dealing with? He was among those arrested shortly after the disputed June 12 vote.
Gerami: [Kian Tajbaksh] was arrested three months after the election; it's been five months that he's being held in solitary confinement at Evin prison.
Spending five months in solitary confinement is extremely difficult. Psychologically he is strong because he is innocent and he hasn't done anything wrong and he's confident that his situation will be [resolved]; his case is transparent.
But physically he's lost weight, and as a mother I can see that he's been broken. I feel he's under pressure.
Of course, in order to comfort us, he always tells us that he's doing fine, that we shouldn't worry. But I'm really worried about him. You can imagine what happens when you hold anyone in solitary confinement for five months.
RFE/RL: What is your reaction to the 15-year prison sentence your son received after being charged with "soft overthrow" and similar charges. It's one of the heaviest prison sentences issued for those arrested in the postelection crackdown.
Gerami: First of all, I have to say that when I returned to Iran two months ago [from New York] it was the birthday of my granddaughter, who is Kian's only child. We all thought -- we strongly believed -- that my son would be released for the birthday of his daughter. Not only wasn't he released, but the week after they issued the 15-year prison sentence not only us, I mean the family, but also [Kian] himself, we're all astonished, we're shocked, we don't understand why such a sentence has been handed down.
He's a scholar, he didn't participate and wasn't involved in the postelection events. He was under the watch of the Intelligence Ministry; all his actions were being monitored by the Intelligence Ministry. I would call him from New York and tell him not to go out, don't take part in the unrest. He would tell me: "Mother, be sure, we're fine, there isn't any problem. My case is transparent and I'm being monitored.'
All the officials knew that he didn't leave his house [during the postelection unrest]. Even if he had to go out to visit some friends, he would make sure to change his route to avoid [antigovernment] demonstrations. Therefore, when the sentence was issued we were all astonished; he was stunned. When [the authorities] informed him about the 15-year prison sentence, he was about to go crazy. He couldn't believe something like this would happen.
We're very, very concerned and I know for sure that my son is innocent; he knows he's innocent, he hasn't done anything. He and his family were supposed to come to New York in early September and he was supposed to work at Columbia University, from which he graduated, and now we're unfortunately stuck in this issue.
RFE/RL: What do you think is the reason behind this heavy sentence? Kian Tajbakhsh was also jailed in 2005. Why do you think he has faced so much pressure?
Gerami: This is my opinion, and it might not be correct, but I think it's a political decision because my son is Iranian-American. He has dual nationality and this is a political [case].
RFE/RL: What do you think the United States can do in his case, the U.S. and the international community?
Gerami: So far, human rights groups in the U.S. and elsewhere -- his friends and colleagues at Columbia University -- have done what they could. They have sent letters to the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. They've sent letters to government officials. I myself have written to [Iranian President ] Mahmud Ahmadinejad and I was told that he received the letter.
There some things have happened and I really hope that this issue will be resolved soon. My son's case is now being reviewed by an appeals court. I really hope that the appeals court comes to the conclusion that the charges against him are baseless and he will be acquitted and allowed to come home as soon as possible.
I would just like to add that his daughter misses her father very much and is very impatient. We're under a lot of pressure, a lot.
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