Correction to This Article
The Diplomatic Dispatches column of June 28 incorrectly reported that Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, attended a meeting at the Iranian Interests Section in Washington concerning an arrested professor. Parsi was not present at the meeting.

Rights Activists Come Knocking At the Iranian Interests Section

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Iranian diplomats at the Iranian Interests Section on Wisconsin Avenue listened courteously to a delegation of prominent individuals who came calling last Friday to protest the detention of Iranian professor and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo . But the envoys offered no explanation for the arrest or word of when the prisoner might go free.

The Sorbonne graduate was arrested April 27 at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport while trying to board a flight to Brussels. He has been kept at Evin Prison without specific charges or access to legal defense, according to human rights activists.

A holder of dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship, he has written widely on the subject of democracy in Iran and is well known outside the country. He is director of contemporary studies at the Cultural Research Bureau, a private group in Tehran.

Iran has had no diplomatic relations with the United States since the embassy hostage crisis of a quarter-century ago. But its government maintains an outpost here in the form of the interests section, which technically is part of the Embassy of Pakistan.

Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division, spoke on behalf of the group calling at the section's offices. He told the diplomats that "the Iranian government is responsible for the safety of its citizens," Stork said in an interview.

The group was scheduled to meet with Ali Jazini , head of the interests section. But it ended up delivering its letter of protest to two junior deputies, who said they did not know much about the issue, according to Fariba Amini , who helped organize the visit and accompanied the group.

Amini said in an interview yesterday that the aides apologized profusely for the absence of Jazini. The junior officers promised, however, to forward a letter from the group to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran and to judicial authorities there.

"The illegal arrest and imprisonment of individuals who seek justice in Iran is against all international and legal jurisdictions," the letter said. "Additionally, we ask for the freedom of all political detainees who are held in Iran's various prisons for participating in peaceful gatherings."

The delegation also included Joanne Leedom Ackerman , vice president of International P.E.N., a writers association; Zahir Janmohamed , Amnesty International's advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa; and Trita Parsi , president of the National Iranian American Council.

The Rev. Mphu Tutu , director of the Tutu Institute and daughter of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu , also sent a letter with the delegation pressing for Jahanbegloo's release.

A Shining Light

Finnish Ambassador Pekka Lintu and officials of the Millennium Prize Foundation will host a dinner this evening to honor the 2006 recipient of the foundation's technology prize, Shuji Nakamura . The University of California at Santa Barbara professor is being recognized for his work with low-energy devices known as light-emitting diodes.

The foundation compares his discoveries to Thomas Edison's work with incandescent light bulbs in the 19th century. It predicts that his inventions, already in use in many technologies, will bring on a whole new era of lighting, raising the quality of life and helping sustainable development. Improved sterilization of water for drinking and better optical data storage are other benefits cited from his innovations.

The award, granted by an international selection committee, includes a $1.2 million grant and is awarded every other year.

Nakamura was born in 1954 on Japan's Shikoku island and did his initial work in Japan. He is known there not only as a technologist but as the man who challenged the country's custom that companies, not individual inventors, reap the financial rewards of patents. He sued his former employer, Nichia Corp., which had paid him a token $200 bonus for his work on a new diode technology. Last year, he reached a settlement with the company for about $8 million, the Associated Press reported.

Nakamura has become an outspoken advocate of American ways. "Japan is treating people as though they're all robots," he told reporters in Tokyo after the settlement was announced. "I'm so lucky I work in the United States. I can't imagine working in Japan again."

"Professor Nakamura has achieved the 'holy grail' of semiconductor research by developing blue, green and white light emitting diodes and the blue laser," said Pekka Tarjanne , chairman of the Millennium Prize Foundation's selection committee, who plans to attend the dinner at the Finnish Embassy.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company