With Iran Blaming West, Dual Citizens Are Targets

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 2009

Among the more than 100 people on trial after Iran's disputed presidential election are two dual citizens: Kian Tajbakhsh, 47, an American Iranian urban planner, and Maziar Bahari, 42, a Canadian Iranian filmmaker and Newsweek reporter.

Bahari was arrested June 21 at his mother's Tehran apartment, where he was staying while reporting on the post-election turmoil. Tajbakhsh, who lives in Tehran with his wife and daughter, was arrested July 9 while leaving his home to attend a party.

Friends and family members say they do not know where the men are being held. They have not been allowed visitors or access to lawyers, though both have been allowed a few phone calls and appeared in a Tehran courtroom last week.

Their arrests, along with those of opposition politicians and other journalists, came after Iranians poured into the streets protesting what they said was the rigged reelection of the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian officials have blamed the protests on foreign governments and news agencies, and friends of Tajbakhsh and Bahari worry that the two are being held because of their Western links.

"They are trying to make a case to their own constituents, and to international constituents, that what has taken place has a foreign element behind it, so dual nationals, people with ties to Western NGOs, are targets," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a friend of Tajbakhsh. "I don't believe for a second that they genuinely perceive Kian to be a threat to national security."

Last month, Iranian news reports quoted Bahari as stating that "as a journalist and a member of this great Western capitalism machine," he had "either blindly or on purpose participated in projecting doubts and promoting a color revolution" similar to those in Georgia and Ukraine.

Last week, Bahari, whose partner is pregnant in London, apologized before Iranian reporters. Friends and colleagues say they think the statements were made under duress.

Both men looked haggard and tense in photos released last week by Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency.

Their arrests follow a pattern during Ahmadinejad's tenure of high-profile detentions of dual citizens. Since he took office in 2005, at least seven have been detained, including Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari in 2007 and freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, who was convicted of espionage this year and later pardoned.

Tajbakhsh, who has lived in Iran since 1999 and has done some projects for its government, was held for four months in 2007, during which authorities accused him of trying to foment a "color" revolution. He stayed in Iran afterward and had plans to teach at Columbia University this fall.

Friends said he had purposely avoided the election-related turmoil, even abstaining from voting. "He felt confident there was no rationale for him to be imprisoned," Sadjadpour said. Two days after the vote, Tajbakhsh wrote to him in an e-mail: "I'm keeping my head down. I have nothing journalistic to add to all the reports that are here."

Bahari had been filing reports for Newsweek and for television stations in Britain; the Iranian government has accused him of sending reports to foreign news media in exchange for payment, said Nisid Hajari, Newsweek's foreign editor.

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