PhD student sentenced to seven years in Iranian prison

by Daniel Johnson

Ehsan Abdoh-Tabrizi, a PhD student at the School of Government and International Affairs, has been sentenced to seven years inIranian jail for “insulting the leader”, “having links with foreign elements” and taking part in protests.

He was arrested and imprisoned in mid-January 2010 at Imam Khomeini International Airport, while visiting family in Iran during the Christmas holidays. It is believed that he was held in solitary confinement for 50 days after his arrest, following demonstrations in the Iranian capital.

His father Hossein Abdoh-Tabrizi insists that his son is totally innocent.

Speaking to the BBC’s Persian Service he said: “Ehsan is not a political person and is only a history researcher. He’s been in prison for almost a year now and I don’t [even] think anyone in the judiciary system accepts this sentence.

“Our understanding is that even the persecutor and judge don’t believe this crime.

“I urge authorities to investigate such issues and to disallow this magnitude of injustice.”

Some friends and colleagues of Ehsan suspect that one reason for his arrest may be because his father is the manager of the banned reformist newspaper Sarmayeh. He has also been secretary-general of the Tehran Stock Exchange, and was reportedly a constant critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic policies.

Ehsan is currently being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison along with other political prisoners. His parents were finally allowed to visit him in prison four months after his arrest.

In an official statement made on the 1 January 2011, Professor Anthony Forster, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) said: “Durham University is extremely disappointed and concerned to hear of the continued imprisonment of Ehsan Abdoh-Tabrizi.

“Throughout Ehsan’s imprisonment we have been concerned for his health and wellbeing and remain committed to supporting his family in securing a positive outcome in his case.”

In August, there were mounting concerns about the deteriorating health of Mr Abdoh-Tabrizi. Speaking at the time, Professor Forster said: “the university has become increasingly concerned about Ehsan’s well-being following reports of poor health and continued ambiguity relating to the charges that have been brought against him.”

He added: “the university has an obligation and a duty of care to raise awareness of Ehsan’s imprisonment and deteriorating health.”
Professor Forster also wrote an open letter to the Iranian Ambassador in London, calling on him “to exert whatever influence you can to ensure that Mr Abdoh-Tabrizi’s case is resolved as soon as possible thereby enabling him to complete his studies after three years of hard work.”

However, some friends and colleagues of Mr Abdoh-Tabrizi have been highly critical of the university’s early response to Ehsan’s arrest.
On www.iranian.com, one friend and colleague wrote: “What is both disturbing and utterly shocking regarding Abdoh Tabrizi’s imprisonment is the lack of care that Durham University has shown concerning this grave injustice that the Islamic Republic has committed against one of their students.”

“Concerned friends and colleagues contacted ITV News, notifying them of his detention in Evin prison.

“Upon learning that ITV News was in the process of doing a story about Abdoh Tabrizi, Durham University threatened the ITV News. In an e-mail leaked on the 15 April 2010 between Durham University and ITV News the message stated that if ITV News covered the issue regarding Abdoh Tabrizi’s imprisonment in Evin, this would ‘endanger his life’.”

According to The Guardian, up until June the university refused to even acknowledge Abdoh-Tabrizi’s arrest. “Journalists who contacted the university faced stonewalling and warnings that any publicity could endanger him.”

One friend of Abdoh-Tabrizi complained to the newspaper that “those Iranian students who tried to protest the university’s inaction were either reprimanded privately or shunned.”

The university strongly denies the allegations, and insists that they have kept staff, students and media outlets informed about Ehsan’s case. Professor Forster declined the opportunity to discuss the case with Palatinate.

Ariabarzan Mohammadighalehtaki, a fellow PhD student of Ehsan’s at SGIA, said: “Ehsan’s friends and fellow students including myself were critical of the University’s initial approach regarding Ehsan’s arrest and imprisonment.”

However, he instead called upon the university to put in place a number of initiatives to raise awareness about Ehsan’s arrest.
“The University can establish a scholarship in subjects related to Iran after Ehsan’s name to send a message to the world saying that the flame of academic enquiry can never be put off by jailing one of Durham University’s most talented students.

“Many students will continue Ehsan’s academic path in his absence and will join him in his scholarly endeavor when he returns from Iran.”

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