UCI Faculty Member Ali Shakeri Held Hostage in Iran
Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of UC Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding (CCPB), is being held in solitary confinement at Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. He is one of four Iranian-Americans detained on charges of endangering Iran’s national security.
Shakeri traveled to Iran on March 14 to visit his mother on her deathbed. After she passed away, Shakeri planned to return to the United States by May 8. However, he was arrested by Iranian officials at an airport while waiting for his flight.
As of late August the three other prisoners, Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Kian Tajbakhsh of the Open Society Institute and Parnaz Azima of Radio Farza have been released from the prison. They had to post bail ranging from $110,000 to nearly $600,000 in exchange for their freedom, but not before each had spent a lengthy amount of time there.
Subsequent to her release, Esfandiari returned to her home in Maryland, while Tajbakhsh reunited with his wife in Tehran. Azima is currently in the process of leaving Iran. Shakeri’s fate, however, still remains unclear.
The Iranian government has come under fire as a result of its actions from political leaders, including President George W. Bush and human rights groups. As reported by the Washington Post in June, a researcher from Human Rights Watch stated, ‘It took the Iranian government a month to confirm Shakeri’s detention after several official denials that he [was] in their custody. This demonstrates the complete absence of due process and the arbitrary nature of his arrest, which was effectively state-sponsored kidnapping.’
Earlier this month, one of Shakeri’s sons, Kaveh Shakeri, a UCI alum, spoke out: ‘It’s now been 130 days that [my father has] been imprisoned, and we don’t even know why.’
Family, friends and colleagues of Shakeri have spearheaded the Free Ali Shakeri Campaign in an effort to secure his release. They hope to pressure the Iranian government into doing so by encouraging everyone to send letters to Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to the Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee.
A press release issued by the CCPB on Sept. 17 stated, ‘Iranian authorities have had ample opportunity to know Shakeri is an innocent man incapable of doing anything harmful to Iran.’
According to the Associated Press, Evin Prison, a notorious institution with a special wing just for housing political prisoners, allowed 40 journalists to take a tour of the complex earlier this month. Guards let the journalists interview the prisoners during the four-hour tour. Tajbakhsh, who was still a prisoner at the time, told one of the reporters that ‘conditions inside the prison are fine.’
The journalists observed that the prisoners did seem to be treated well. It was reported that prisoners have access to telephones, bathrooms, television, a swimming pool, etc. There is even a block of rooms available for conjugal visits.
It must be noted, though, that reports of these conditions contradict other accounts from former prisoners.
‘I hope that people don’t get the impression that what the Iranian government allows us to see is representative of what is actually going on there. Certainly, the fact that people have been tortured and some have died at Evin Prison speaks to the reality of the situation,’ said Elise Auerbach, an Iran specialist with Amnesty International.
It was only recently in 2003 that an Iranian-Canadian photographer, Zahra Kazemi, died while incarcerated in Evin Prison. Kazemi was arrested for taking a picture in front of the facility; photography around and of the prison is forbidden. Although the Iranian government’s official stance is that her death was accidental, a former Iranian military physician who claims to have examined Kazemi’s corpse revealed that her body had bruises, wounds and broken bones indicative of torture and rape.
More information about Shakeri and the campaign for his release may be found at http://www.freealishakeri.org.