Columbia-educated urban planner Kian Tajbakhsh, currently in an Iranian prison, faces a new charge of spying by the Iranian government. Tajbakhsh, already sentenced to 15 years in prison for alleged spying, recently told his wife during her prison visit that a judge at the Revolutionary Court read new charges of "spying for the George Soros foundation" last Monday, according to the New York Times. The new charge referenced his work for the Open Society Institute, run by Soros, a financier. It remains unclear how this new charge will augment his sentence. Tajbakhsh earned his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1993 and had been scheduled to teach at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation this semester. He was arrested this summer in the aftermath of Iran's post?election upheaval. Tajbakhsh now remains in solitary confinement for initial charges that also connected the OSI with the CIA and condemned Tajbakhsh's membership of the Gulf/2000 Project—an e-mail listserv managed by SIPA's Gary Sick that connects Iran experts. Tajbakhsh appealed the 15?year sentence. A letter from email@example.com supporting Tajbakhsh is circulating among Columbia faculty, and administrators are calling for his release. He had been imprisoned two years earlier for "fomenting revolution" in Iran, and University President Lee Bollinger and the School of International and Public Affairs lobbied for Tajbakhsh over the summer of 2007. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's invitation to speak on campus that fall came with a stipulation that Bollinger would question him on Tajbakhsh and other prisoners. Tajbakhsh was released from Tehran's Evin prison in September 2007, at the same time Ahmadinejad's speech on campus was announced. His family had to pay a steep bail fee. On Sunday, Columbia's Executive Vice President for Communications David Stone released a statement defending Tajbakhsh, emphasizing his status as a Columbia faculty member as of September. "We join in the White House's renewed call for Kian Tajbakhsh's prompt release from his unjust imprisonment in Iran and share the concern of family and friends about the latest unfounded charges brought against him," Stone wrote. "President Bollinger, Dean Wigley, Global Centers Vice President Ken Prewitt and others both at Columbia and the New School have repeatedly asked that Prof. Tajbakhsh, an American citizen and respected scholar not involved in politics, be allowed to leave Iran with his family and continue his academic career in urban planning here at Columbia. Members of our university community should be aware that Prof. Tajbakhsh is not only a Columbia alumnus, but as of September 1, also a member of our faculty at the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; so his arrest, trial and imprisonment in Iran should therefore concern all of us," he added. An anonymous family member told the Times that Tajbakhsh is now suffering "huge psychological and physical pressure." According to his wife, the Times reported, the judge of the new case said he would rule based on Tajbakhsh's previous defense. The Times also noted that the recent case of Kurdish activist Ehsan Fatahian—who had been sentenced to ten years in prison and was executed on Nov. 12 after his case went back to court—raises the severity of Tajbakhsh's current situation. On Thursday, the White House condemned Iran for its treatment of Tajbakhsh, with press secretary Robert Gibbs calling the charges "baseless" in a statement. Gibbs added, "The United States is deeply concerned about reports of additional charges facing Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian?American scholar who has been detained in Iran without access to an independent lawyer since July 9, 2009. The charges against Mr. Tajbakhsh are baseless, and his original sentence on October 20 was an outrage. The Iranian government cannot earn the respect of the international community when it violates universal rights, and continues to imprison innocent people. We call on the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Mr. Tajbakhsh, and to respect the human rights of those within its borders."
Columbia Spectator Staff