Oxford student arrested in Iran

Fears are growing for the safety of an Oxford University student arrested two weeks ago as he was trying to leave Iran.

Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, 27, and his wife Fatemeh Shams, 26, were aboout to board a flight from Tehran to Qatar on 17th June when he was approached and later detained by Iranian security forces.

Jalaeipour had been working for the pro-democracy presidential challenger Mirhossein Mousavi. He has also been studying for a doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies at St Antony’s college.

Ms Shams, also a St Antony’s student, is worried about Mr Jalaeipour’s safety. The only communication between them since last week has been one 2-minute phone call. She told Cherwell, “He only got the chance to say he is in solitary confinement.

“I have no idea how he is being treated or based on which accusations he has been arrested. This is completely illegal and it denies the basic rights of any prisoner based on our law. Even his lawyer is not allowed to visit him.”

She also expressed her concern about the future academic career of Mr Jalaeipour.

“I am deeply concerned about his safety and health as well as his academic procedure. He needs to be here to finish his thesis. They put him under a mental and physical pressure to the point that I am not even sure he will be able to continue his academic career. His supervisor, Homa Katuzian, is also deeply concerned about his safety and also academic procedure.”

St. Antony’s has appealed for an investigation into the student’s disappearance. A spokesman said, “We are naturally deeply concerned about the detention of our student and have written to the authorities in Iran.

“We have pointed out that he is a credit to the education system in Iran. St Antony’s has urged that his case be investigated and that the authorities show the wisdom and compassion which must be part of all legal systems, and release him to continue his studies.”

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As Mr Jalaeipour was the more prominent member of Mousavi’s campaign team, he had gone ahead to the departure gate so that his wife would not be associated with him if he met with any obstructions. He successfully passed through immigration, but then was stopped by plain clothes officials.

“Once he exited [the gate] one of the security forces, wearing normal clothes, came to him and called his name and asked him to stay with him and to turn off his mobile phone,” Ms Shams said.

“They did not have any papers from the court or anything saying why he was being detained. They told him to turn off his mobile phone and come with them.

“As we went through control, he told me to go through separately because, if they saw us speaking, they would probably arrest me too. In the last seconds he was trying to tell me something but never got the chance.”

Ms Shams waited for about half an hour, boarded the plane, and returned safely to the United Kingdom. She is now afraid to travel to Iran to search for her husband, worrying that she will face a similar fate.

The British embassy has not helped the couple since the arrest. “There was no support from British embassy so far,” commented Shams. “I do not expect them to help me. With this terrible relationship between Iran and UK which is totally unacceptable, I do not think that would help either.”

The student explained that most of their activist friends had also been arrested, “There was a verdict by the court, the judge sent a letter that all of the political activists and social activists were supposed to be arrested. We didn’t even have a chance to go to our house, we had to go to different houses and make sure they couldn’t find us.

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“I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Based on what the supreme leader said today, any kind of violence that happens in the street … they [will] just say the leaders of the reformist movement are responsible.”

Ms Shams insisted that the recent protests in Iran were not being led by the opposition leaders but were the result of popular discontent.

“It’s not about the reformist leaders. It’s just ordinary people who know their votes have not been counted,” she said.

Both Jalaeipour and Shams had been working for the pro-reformist Third Wave campaign. The group originally supported a third term for the defending candidate Mohammad Khatami, but following his withdrawal from the elections switched allegiance to Mr Mousavi, who has disputed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, claiming that voting was rigged.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jalaeipour said he had advised Mousavi to use websites such as Facebook to reach young voters.

Ms Shams said, “Third Wave was a totally legal campaign with reformist tendencies that was trying to get young people involved in the elections.

“My husband went to Iran to complete his fieldwork. He was also active in the presidential campaign, which according to our legal system is fully acceptable and legal. Yet they treat him as if he is a thief or a murderer.

“They deny us our human rights, arrest us and do not let our families know where we are and how we are doing. This is the worst way a government could perhaps treat its hopeful and motivated youth.

“We believed we should take part to make our country better and to have a better future. We were encouraging young people to not be indifferent about their country.”