Columbia faculty have turned to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for support in gaining Kian Tajbakhsh's release from Iranian prison. Tajbakhsh, who earned his Ph.D. from Columbia, was supposed to teach at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation this year, but he was arrested last summer in Iran during the aftermath of the elections. He faces multiple charges of spying and being a threat to the national government. In December, both the University and the White House called for his release. An open letter circulated among Columbia faculty gathered over 150 signatures. And this Monday, Jan. 11, a group of faculty sent a letter to Clinton, urging her to help obtain Tajbakhsh's immediate release. Signers include Dean John Coatsworth of the School of International and Public Affairs, Dean Nicholas Lemann of the Journalism School, Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies and director of SIPA's Middle East Institute, Elazar Barkan, director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights, and Gary Sick, a senior research scholar at the Middle East Institute. The letter begins, "As members of the faculty at Columbia University, we wish to express our deep concerns for the well-being of Kian Tajbakhsh." After citing earlier statements Clinton has made on Tajbakhsh's behalf, the letter asks her to "do everything possible to obtain Mr. Tajbakhsh's immediate release." It adds, "We note that your statement on behalf of Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari made a significant, improved difference in the treatment of Mr. Bahari by prison guards, according to a '60 Minutes' interview of him broadcast in November 2009." "We [the signers] hope the letter may lead to him being treated better in prison," said political science professor and department chair Andrew Nathan, who signed the letter. "We hope she will use an appropriate channel to express concern," Nathan said, adding that the State Department has "a lot of communications with the Iranian government" and that it is "better to have attention to the case than to have it ignored." The letter also denounces Iran's "pattern of harassment of scholars," including Mohammad Maleki, the former chancellor of Tehran University. "Attacking and imprisoning scholars is a destructive and pernicious act that does not address the problems confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran, now or in the future," it states. "Everybody knows that the regime is using coercive repression on its critics inside of the country," Nathan said. "This person [Tajbakhsh] is a scholar, who is coming to this university as a scholar and a teacher. He is not a politician. He hasn't used violence. He is not a terrorist. He is using academic freedom, which should be protected. " "By highlighting the case of our colleague Kian Tajbakhsh, we wish to bring attention to the larger issue of civil rights abuses that are endemic to the Islamic Republic," said Iranian Studies professor Hamid Dabashi, who also signed the letter. "We want to keep the case of Kian Tajbakhsh at the forefront of global attention so that political considerations or the geopolitics of the region are not allowed to override the more pressing human rights abuses." Dabashi added, "I believe Secretary Clinton and by extension, the administration, should do what President Obama has called 'bearing witness' to the civil rights movement in Iran, and by insisting on the immediate release of Kian Tajbakhsh, bring the fate other political prisoners whose very name the international community does not even know to a more global attention."
Columbia Spectator Staff