Two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, have been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison since early May. This week the Iranian television network announced that it would televise confessions by Esfandiary and Tajbakhsh, confirming their participation in a US government-funded "velvet revolution" aimed at overthrowing the Islamic Republic.
These scholars' arrests have been denounced by the Woodrow Wilson Center, where Haleh Esfandiary is employed as the Director of their Middle East Program, and The Open Society Institute, for whom Tajbakhsh has served as an urban planning consultant, the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and the International Society for Iranian Studies, both preeminent international organizations committed to academic freedom, free exchange of ideas, and freedom of expression in all forms.
The letters of protest have not garnered responses from the Iranian authorities to whom they were addressed. They appear to have been countered by the staged confessions that further erode the international scholarly community's belief in Iran's respect for values fundamental to scholarly exchange and inquiry.
These confessions are meant to instill fear, as are recent arbitrary dismissals and forced retirements of professors in Iranian universities. No doubt these actions will make Iranian and Iranian-American scholars who have devoted themselves to the study of Iranian culture, society, and history think twice about what they choose as object of their research.
This self-censorship is meant to curb any challenge or perceived challenge to the Islamic Republic. But refraining from the study of the practices and institutions of the Islamic Republic will also ensure the country's isolation from the rest of the world at a time when Iran appears to be concerned about its image in the global media.
Iran's desire to redress the misrepresentations of the country in the international media has led to the creation of Press TV, a government sponsored international news network. The slick image and the catchy headlines of Press TV will be severely tested when the state-run television airs confessions obtained under duress.
Interestingly Press TV has been running stories about Guantanamo Bay. The Iranian denunciations of the US practices will continue to ring hollow as long as it continues to detain scholars in solitary confinement, deprive them of legal counsel, and humiliate them by airing confessions."