Iran's political upheaval has claimed its first American, with the arrest on July 9 of Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian American living in Tehran, according to an Iranian human-rights group and family friends.
As part of the latest security sweep designed to end nationwide protests against the disputed June 12 presidential election, Tajbakhsh was picked up from his home late Thursday following a day of renewed demonstrations, according to Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. His computer equipment was confiscated and his home ransacked, Ghaemi said.
Tajbakhsh, 47, was not involved in the protests, the sources said, but the Columbia University graduate had been among four dual citizens arrested in 2007 on charges of trying to foment a "velvet revolution" against the Islamic regime. He spent four months in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison before his release. Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning expert, taught urban policy at the New School for Social Research in New York City from 1994 until 2001. Before his arrest in 2007, he had served as an adviser to the Iranian Ministry of Health and been a consultant for George Soros' Open Society Institute.
The regime has repeatedly charged that the recent unrest is a plot by foreign powers, particularly Britain, to orchestrate an uprising against the theocracy. On the eve of the pivotal vote, Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei expressed concern about a "soft" or "velvet" revolution, the term originally used to describe the 1989 overthrow of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
The head of the country's Revolutionary Guards political division also charged that supporters of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi were part of the plot. "Any kind of velvet revolution will not be successful in Iran," he warned in a comment on the website of the Guards, the élite wing of Iran's military created to protect the revolution.
The detention is being widely condemned. In Washington, Haleh Esfandiari, who also was detained in Iran in 2007, said the regime's "paranoia regarding a so-called velvet revolution planned from the outside and assisted from the inside has gotten out of control."
Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Iran's Intelligence Ministry "keeps trying to prove the unprovable." Esfandiari was released after a show of public pressure by then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as a letter to Khamenei from former Congressman Lee Hamilton, the president of the Wilson Center and co-chair of both the Iraq Study Group and the 9/11 Commission.
After his release from prison, Tajbakhsh opted to stay and work in Iran, where his family lives, and deliberately avoided politics, friends say. "Kian knew his activities were being closely monitored by the government ever since his release from prison in 2007, so he was very careful not to give them any pretext to re-arrest him," said Karim Sadjadpour, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and a close friend who has talked with his family.
The regime may be trying to implicate the U.S. in the unrest, analysts say. "What's significant is the fact that he was taken by the Revolutionary Guards and that he is, as far as we know, the first U.S. citizen to be detained. I think it's very plausible that Iran's hard-liners are trying to draw the United States into this," Sadjadpour said.
The Iranian human-rights group said Tajbakhsh joins more than 240 other prominent Iranian lawyers, activists, journalists, professors, human-rights defenders and students detained without warrants and taken to undisclosed locations since the unrest began almost a month ago. "These detainees are being held in incommunicado detention and the authorities have refused to provide any information regarding charges against them or their condition to their families," Ghaemi said in a statement.