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This article is used by permission of The New York Sun ©.

Leading Iranian Journalist Detained, Barred From Receiving Award in New York

By Eli Lake, Staff Reporter of the Sun, October 13, 2004, The New York Sun

WASHINGTON - A special clerical court in Iran detained one of the country's leading journalists and authors last week at the Tehran airport en route to New York to receive a prize awarded for civil courage in repressive countries.

The arrest of Emadeddin Baghi in Tehran comes as the Bush administration is preparing for a summit Friday with representatives of Britain, France, and Germany to discuss new ways to get Iran to dismantle a uranium enrichment program the White House has publicly said it believes is intended to manufacture weapons.

As the Bush administration has focused almost exclusively on Iran's nuclear proliferation, the agenda of human rights and support for democratic activists in the country has all but vanished from the president's public agenda on Iran. Only two years ago, the president on many occasions expressed his solidarity with Iranians who were demonstrating against the government.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday said the American position still favors taking Iran's violations to the U.N. Security Council, a move opposed by the Europeans. "One of the things we'll discuss on Friday is to hear from the Europeans about their ideas about how to get Iran to comply with the requirements, and we also would expect to discuss what to do, what the next steps might be, were we to refer this to the U.N. Security Council," he said.

In this atmosphere, Iran's conservative clerics have moved aggressively against those inside the regime that sought to reform and those outside that sought more radical change. Earlier this year most of the candidates affiliated with President Khatami, a moderate cleric who came to power promising greater political freedoms, were barred from running for the legislature. Mr. Khatami's reformist vice president in charge of the justice and parliamentary affairs stepped down yesterday and was replaced by a member of the council of experts, the hard-line clerical body that chooses the country's supreme leader, the one position that controls the military, intelligence services, and secret police.

On October 4 a special clerical court issued orders to Iranian airport security to sieze Mr. Baghi and his luggage as he was boarding a plane destined eventually for Dulles Airport outside of Washington. The court, known as the Dadgah Vizheh Rohaniat, seized Mr. Baghi's passport with no explanation, according to his uncle, Heibatollah Baghi, a professor at George Mason University, who accepted the $50,000 cash award from the Northcote Parkinson Fund for his nephew last night in New York. The next day pro-government newspapers in Tehran ran stories saying that Mr. Baghi and his family had intended to defect to America.

"This is very unusual," Heibatollah Baghi told The New York Sun in an interview."He had no problems visiting Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. Why is he not allowed to visit America?"

Another factor in Mr. Baghi's detention that raised alarms for his uncle was the fact that he had received permission to attend the award ceremony in America and other conferences on the planned one-month trip. The court that blocked his departure normally only applies jurisdiction to members of the clergy.

Emadeddin Baghi studied in Iran's clerical capital of Qom for 10 years under Ayatollah Montazeri, an early ally of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. Ayatollah Montazeri who later turned on him and criticized his bloody campaign against dissenting clerics. Mr. Baghi, however, did not choose a life in the clergy and instead made his name by writing books and articles, leading the Iranian press in reporting on what became known as the "chain murders" against leading intellectual critics of the regime in the late 1990s.

Mr.Baghi has since opened seven separate newspapers only to have them closed byTehran's public prosecutor. He has been sent to prison for his reporting, and six of his 20 books have been prohibited from being republished. He started a new paper this year but has already run into snags from unelected justices in Tehran. In a statement to the international community Mr. Baghi said that the day before his trip to America he was being followed. At one point a man on a motorcycle snatched one of his bags outside the Dutch Embassy.

"It was broadly expected that after people had elected Khatami as the president of the country such conducts and treatments would come to an end, but all that has faded," the statement said.

The statement went on to say his telephone conversations were tapped. "I am not worried about this as I am not to hide anything and I would be happy to have audience even in this odd strange way," the statement said. "My place of residence is under security supervision, and although I am not at prison but I am living under severe restrictions and all of this is done to me who have no secret hidden activities."

 

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