Iran Sentences Academic Linked To Protests

Iran sentenced Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh to at least 12 years in prison for his role in protests after the country's disputed presidential election. Haleh Esfandiari, author of My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran, says Tajbakhsh, who grew up in the West, willingly returned to Iran.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The White House has expressed its deepest regret and strong objection after Iran sentenced an Iranian-American scholar to at least 12 years in prison. He's Kian Tajbakhsh, 47 years old, a social scientist and urban planner who has taught at the New School in New York. He was arrested in Tehran on July 9th, accused of acting against national security. He was put on trial with more than 100 opposition figures and yesterday he received the longest prison term yet from that mass trial. The Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has known Mr. Tajbakhsh and his work for many years. And they were in fact both imprisoned in Iran at the same time back in 2007, held for months and then released. Mrs. Esfandiari joins us to talk about this case. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. HALEH ESFANDIARI: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And I wonder if you could tell us about the Kian Tajbakhsh you know.

Ms. ESFANDIARI: I've known Kian for quite a number of years. He grew up in the West. So therefore, he brought for us the best of the two cultures. And you know, it was his own choice to go back to Iran and live in Iran because he had wonderful successful career at the New School. And at some stage I remember talking to him and he told me that he has decided to go back and live in Iran and work in Iran.

BLOCK: You were both held in the same prison, in Evin prison back in 2007, in solitary confinement. After you were released, did you talk to him about your experience there?

Ms. ESFANDIARI: We met twice when he was in the United States very briefly, because Kian was released a month after I was released so I didn't see him in Iran. But when I saw him we both decided not to exchange prison memories and we - I just thanked him for sending me books because I would rely on Kian's books to spend my time in prison and that was really what we talked about. And we looked at the future rather than at the past. We both tried to bury those horrible memories of prison.

BLOCK: And then when you heard back in July that he had been arrested yet again after this crackdown on anti-government protestors, what were you thinking?

Ms. ESFANDIARI: I really was dumbstruck. I never believed that they would arrest him and charge him with the same accusations that they had leveled against him and against me in prison because I knew that Kian was keeping a low profile and he was not a member of the reformist movement. He was not part of any political activity or party. And he was just leading a very quiet life, translating books and writing books.

BLOCK: And what about the role of international pressure do you think on this case? Is the United States is doing enough to focus on human rights in Iran and the detention of dissidents and Mr. Tajbakhsh?

Ms. ESFANDIARI: There is never enough in these cases. I think the United States should do more in talking about human rights abuse in Iran. And they should ask their allies and their friends around the world to talk about these issues and ask the Iranian government to let all of them go and especially Kian.

BLOCK: Haleh Esfandiari, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ms. ESFANDIARI: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Haleh Esfandiari is the author of "My Prison My Home: One Woman's Story Of Captivity In Iran." We were talking about Kian Tajbakhsh, sentenced yesterday to at least 12 years in prison in Iran.

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