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With Iran Blaming West, Dual Citizens Are Targets
"That's exactly what he's been doing for more than 10 years," Hajari said, adding that the Iranian government had renewed Bahari's press accreditation each year and had not complained about his work. "What they've accused him of doing is a job that they themselves had licensed and approved him to do."
Bahari's writing had not been particularly critical of the Iranian government, according to analysts. "Newsweek coverage has been quite favorable in the past, so I'm surprised that they would target him," said Ervand Abrahamian, a history professor at the City University of New York's Baruch College.
Esfandiari, the scholar who, like Tajbakhsh, spent four months in an Iranian prison in 2007, said the government may simply have looked for convenient targets to blame for the post-election unrest.
"I can guess that they were digging into the velvet revolution file, and they needed a credible voice to talk about this velvet revolution, and the only person who was there was Kian," she said. "I've heard they have rooms full of charts about universities, think tanks, NGOs and are then drawing parallels from Georgia, Ukraine and so on. And then they go after truly, truly innocent people like Kian."
Shiva Balaghi, an Iran scholar at Brown University, said the arrests are part of a historical pattern in the Islamic republic. "Whenever they feel they're losing their grip on power is when they do these things," she said.
In past weeks, as cracks have appeared in the top echelons of the Iranian government, it has been unclear who is in charge of detainees. When Tajbakhsh checked in with his Intelligence Ministry minder after the election, Sadjadpour said, he was told, " 'It's not us that's behind the imprisonment now; it's the Sepah, the Revolutionary Guard.' "
The U.S. and Canadian governments have called for release of the men, and writers, filmmakers and artists have signed petitions. Iran is also holding a French academic, who apologized in court Saturday, and three U.S. citizens who hiked over the border from Iraq last week.
Jacki Lyden, a National Public Radio reporter who has worked with Bahari inside and outside Iran, said his arrest signals an end to the reassurances journalists there used to count on.
"Every little thing you tell yourself about why they would not come after you, those little half-truths over the last 20 years, are gone," she said. "Anybody who subscribes to the idea that there's a doormat-sized civil society in the Islamic republic has found that doormat yanked out from under them."