Professor detained on espionage charges in Iran

BERKELEY, Calif. – A political scientist from the University of California, Berkeley has been detained since July in Iran on charges of espionage, according to friends and Iranian media reports.

Dariush Zahedi, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, never returned from a trip to visit relatives in Iran this summer. Friends and family believe he was detained the first week of July, around the anniversary of a bloody 1999 police crackdown on a student uprising.

He has since been held in solitary confinement at a prison in Tehran, the nation’s capital.

University officials knew about Zahedi’s imprisonment but kept quiet at the request of his family, who hoped to deal with Iranian authorities privately, the San Jose Mercury News reported recently.

“They were trying to handle things behind the scenes and were frightened that if it got public those channels could dry up,” said UC Berkeley professor David Leonard.

The U.S. State Department is also monitoring the case, the Mercury-News reported.

“We are always interested when a U.S. citizen is detained,” Kelly Shannon, a spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, told the newspaper.

The United States and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, according to the State Department. Iran does, however, maintain an Interests Section in the Pakistani Embassy, but there was no answer there Saturday.

Details of Iranian media reports were not immediately available.

Hooshang Amirahmadi, a political science professor at Rutgers University, friend of Zahedi and president of the American Iranian Council in New Jersey, said Zahedi was arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I don’t know why they’re keeping him,” he said. “He’s nobody, in a way. He has no political force. He’s not organized in any political group.”

Amirahmadi has been working with Iranian diplomats in the United States toward Zahedi’s release, which he hopes to attain in a couple of weeks.

“At first, we just heard that an American professor was arrested by the Ministry of Information and charged with spying,” said Amirahmadi, who monitors Iranian news. “He was acquitted of the charges, but obviously the Justice Department in Iran intervened and would not let him go.”

Zahedi, a part-time lecturer at the Berkeley campus since 2001, has written a book titled “The Iranian Revolution Then and Now: Indicators of Regime Instability” and was supposed to teach a class on war and peace in the Middle East at the university this fall.

He also teaches at Santa Clara University.

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