An Iranian-American consultant detained for months in Tehran’s Evin prison told reporters visiting the facility Tuesday that he expects to be released soon, a possibility confirmed by a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary.
Kian Tajbakhsh also said that Iranian authorities have raised no formal charges against him, although officials said they have charged him with endangering national security — as they have the recently released Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.
“I expect to be released soon; conditions inside the prison are fine,” said Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute.
Tajbakhsh, 45, said his case was still under investigation. However, Ali Reza Jamshidi, an Iranian judiciary spokesman who accompanied the media visit, told reporters that charges indeed have been raised against Tajbakhsh but that he would likely be “released soon, probably within the next few days.”
Tajbakhsh is one of a handful of Iranian-Americans who were recently detained or prevented from leaving the country on suspicions of security offenses, adding to tensions between Washington and Tehran. The U.S. accuses Iran of arming Shiite Muslim militants in Iraq and seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies those claims, and blames the U.S. for Iraq’s instability.
Conditions of prison
Iranian authorities invited media Tuesday to visit the Evin prison, notorious for conditions in which it holds political prisoners. During the tour, reporters were allowed to briefly speak with Tajbakhsh. Although it is unusual to get inside Evin, the government sometimes organizes visits to such sites.
Tajbakhsh, who wore a gray T-shirt and dark pants, spoke to reporters while standing under a tree in the prison compound. Sporting his usual beard and glasses, he appeared relaxed and spoke mostly in Farsi but also in English when asked questions in English. A prison official stood by his side.
He appeared healthy and said he is held in solitary confinement, but that he has access to television and a private bath.
“I have weekly visits with my wife, and have telephone conversations with her every night,” Tajbakhsh said. He declined to say anything more about his circumstances “until formal charges are raised.”
In the United States, the Soros Foundation welcomed the development.
“The Open Society Institute welcomes reports that the release of Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh is anticipated and we look forward to the moment when this distinguished scholar will actually leave prison and be reunited with his family,” Soros’ spokeswoman Laura Silber told The Associated Press by telephone.
Tajbakhsh, who has been held since May, was shown in July on a video by Iran’s state TV, along with Esfandiari. The TV program was titled “In the Name of Democracy” and included clips of Tajbakhsh’s and Esfandiari’s purported confessions.
In the broadcast, Tajbakhsh said that his organization tried to create a “gap between the government and the nation.” But on Tuesday he told reporters that he didn’t “see that as confessions.”
The Open Society Institute has criticized the Iranian government for the broadcast and dismissed the statement in it as “coerced.”
Other Iranian-Americans suspected of security offenses include Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine, who also is in custody in the Tehran prison. Media did not see Shakeri during the visit Tuesday.
Esfandiari, 67, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, was held for 105 days in Evin before her release in August. Last week, she returned home to the U.S. after Iranian officials gave back her passport.
A fourth Iranian-American — Parnaz Azima, a journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Farda — recently was given her passport back and said she would leave Iran in the near future.
Greater dialogue urged
On her return home, Esfandiari expressed frustration that Iranian intelligence officials mistakenly believed her work was part of a larger U.S. attempt to start a nonviolent revolution in Iran.
In Washington on Monday, Esfandiari appealed for greater dialogue between the United States and Iran and spoke of great personal disappointment that she should have been detained in Iran after working for nine years to encourage Iran and Middle East discussions.
“It is as if all your efforts all these years were not appreciated and were misunderstood,” Esfandiari said on her first day back to work at the Wilson Center.
The Open Society Institute is an organization to promote the development of civil society. It was founded by American billionaire George Soros.