Saturday, 2 September 2006

Details of Jahanbegloo's "confession"

JahanbeglooAlmost immediately after his release, the Iranian intellectual made a statement that US institutions should refrain from contacting prominent Iranians.
Jahanbegloo told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) in an interview on Tuesday, barely hours after his release from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, that contacting Iranians could result in putting them in danger of acting against their country's security. He accepted that this may have happened to him. Arrested on his way back from a seminar in India at Tehran airport on Apr. 25, Jahanbegloo is now out on 'heavy' bail. Curiously, one of his first acts was to pop into the offices of the ISNA and offer an interview, saying he trusted the agency.
To me, this sounds like code for "putting them in danger with their government." This impression is further strengthened by his subsequent remarks.
He cited contacts with U.S. think tanks as one reason for his arrest. "My relations with foreign institutions started in 1999 when I went to Canada and then to Harvard university," Jahanbegloo said. "But the chain of events leading to my arrest started when I got a fellowship from the National Endowment for Democracy which gets its budget from U.S. Congress and mostly investigates the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Later it was proposed that I do a comparative study of Iranian and East European intellectuals for them. I was arrested before I gave them the results of that research," he told ISNA.
His confession is being greeted with some sceptism in Iran, despite his assurances that he had not been tortured.
"The hard line part of the Iranian state considers the reformist movement and the contacts of individuals with circles abroad that want to strengthen civil society as attempts to undermine the Islamic republic. They call their activities 'attempts at a soft overthrow'," says an analyst in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Jahanbegloo, women's rights and civil society activists and their like are seen as people attempting to very slowly and gradually empty the Islamic republic of its revolutionary and religious content. Jahanbegloo has confessed that he had done research for the Marshall Fund on the characteristics of the movements leading to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The Islamic republic is so sensitive to the idea of similar attempts being made here," he says.

"Jahanbegloo is highly respected in intellectual circles and by the Iranian elite, but he was also the weakest link in the elite chain. He was not affiliated to any important political groups, nor had any revolutionary portfolio or connections to anyone influential within the system itself. He had lots of contacts with foreign entities. It was much easier and less costly for the regime to arrest him than say, for instance, Akbar Ganji, Abbas Abdi or Hashem Aghajari," the analyst says.

"Arresting Jahanbegloo was the most effective message to the intellectual elite here to know they are watched carefully and closely by the intelligence bodies of the Islamic republic and that they could be confronted seriously. The arrest and the confession could provide the Islamic republic with the opportunity to silence the elite and to reduce their relations with foreign entities to the lowest possible level. All these can very well serve to give the Islamic republic immunity to a 'velvet revolution', as Jahanbegloo was said to have been plotting,'' he added.
Jahanbegloo is not out of the woods yet. He is only out on bail, and must still stand trial. The Canadian government is declining further comment until they've heard from him personally.

Rasool Nafisi explains how the regime has found a more subtle form of pressure for intellectuals than the violence that Kazemi suffered: "bail" is their houses and their mothers' houses. If they do not respect their conditions, their mother is out on the street. Charming.

This new tactic seems to be more effective than old-fashioned television confessions, after which almost all those released reversed their statements, thus making a mockery of such orchestrated public performances. The strong bonds in Iranian families, and the fact that in most cases its house is the only property an urban family owns, mean that great psychological as well as financial pressure is exerted: the prospect of homelessness, especially for ageing family members, is intensely worrying.

In the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo, it seems that he was promised freedom and a passport if he gave an interview to "an agency of his choice", in order to tell them "just what he has confessed under interrogation." The offer had a twist: to make sure that Ramin would keep his side of the bargain, he had to post two houses as bail � his mother's as well as his own. The student news agency interview was the result.

The conclusions to be drawn are too obvious to require further comment.

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