Thursday, 31 May 2007

Iran Charges Iranian-American Academics as spies

It looks as if Iran is continuing it policy of – well government (or at lest factions within it) sanctioned hostage taking, for want of a better term.

Having ‘arrested’ and humiliated British navy personnel. Iran has also decided to detain and charge two well known Iranian - American academics Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbaksh as spies.

Haleh Esfandiari is 67 years old and works in Washington, running the Middle East department of the Woodrow Wilson centre there. She made the mistake of visiting her elderly mother in Iran.
Esfandiari has been prevented from leaving Iran since December last year, after having her passports stolen by, ‘mysterious unidentified gunmen’ on her way to the airport to return to the US.

Kian Tajbaksh the other academic and social scientist had done work for the Open Society Institute of George Soros - an organisation Iran says was trying to instigate a "velvet revolution" to topple the clerical regime.

An official spokesman stated they had both now been formally charged with spying, acting against Iran's national security - and conducting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. They appear to have been imprisoned in an intelligence ministry facility. No date for trial has been announced.

Another Iranian - American academic, Ali Shakeri, mysteriously disappeared in Iran earlier this month. The judicial authorities are currently denying any knowledge of him, but a well known newspaper has indicated he also has been arrested.

According to the BBC these arrests have sparked unease in Iran, many in contact with westerners now fear they may also be accused of spying. Concerns about this have prompted other Iranians to abandon trips - worried they too will not be safe.

The charges appear rather spurious and one suspects their possession of American Passports may have more to do with their misfortunes than anything else.

Apparently an unidentified Iranian official, from the dangerously powerful intelligence ministry, suggested, during a briefing with Iranian journalists, that western intelligence agencies were using academic contacts to persuade scholars into espionage. He said seminars inside and outside the country were used.

"We are worried about many academic conferences which foreigners attend and establish relations. Any foreigner who establishes relations is not trustworthy. Through their approaches, they first establish an academic relationship but this soon changes into an intelligence relationship.”

"Some conversations which take place under the auspices of academic or scientific interviews are pretexts for getting close to the country's scientific figures. Unfortunately some decent individuals fall into the trap of these plots."

The official went on to make claims that Iran had uncovered a CIA/MI5 run spy network within Iraq that was planning bombings, assassinations and kidnappings.

That will be the 67 year old Ms Haleh Esfandiari then... spare time bomber and assassin? - If you believe that I have some valuable share certificates in a Bolivian gold mining venture you may be interested in purchasing, or I will when I print them off...

Worryingly the intelligence official suggested many Iranians were involved.

It looks as if the intelligence ministry may be getting set for either a purge of academics, or to suppress any independent thought by threatening one.