Iran detains two on accusations of plotting 'velvet revolution'
US official labels Iranian claims against US scholar and philanthropist 'absolutely absurd,' as calls mount for release.
The arrests of two Iranian-Americans in Iran on suspicion of trying to instigate a "velvet revolution" there have prompted strong rebukes from the academic and philanthropic agencies they represent, as well as from US government officials.Skip to next paragraph
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The Associated Press reports that Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American and director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, was detained on May 8 and charged Monday with conspiring to set up a network designed to topple the Iranian government. The charges were leveled in by an Iranian Information Ministry statement read on state television.
"This is an American designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," the ministry said....
The broadcast said Esfandiari confirmed during interrogations that her center "invited Iranians to attend conferences, offered them research projects, scholarships ... and tried to lure influential elements and link them to decision-making centers in America."
It was not immediately clear when Esfandiari will stand trial or if the trial will be public.
Agence France-Presse reports that the Iranian ministry's statement also alleged that Ms. Esfandiari admitted in interrogations that the Soros Foundation, which partially funds the Woodrow Wilson Center, was "trying to create in Iran an official network and was trying to expand it to carry out an overthrow." AFP also writes that the ministry said that with Esfandiari's "cooperation," a Soros Foundation "representative" in Iran was being hunted by the police.
The Financial Times writes that Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American social scientist, was also recently detained in Iran. Mr. Tajbakhsh is tied to the Open Society Institute, which is part of businessman-philanthropist George Soros' foundation, which an associate described to the Financial Times as involved with earthquake relief, health, and cultural exchanges.
The detentions have fuelled a climate of fear among colleagues in Iran. Reformists, journalists and non-governmental organisations suspect the fundamentalist government of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of trying to clamp down on opposition in the name of national unity in the face of a US military build-up and United Nations sanctions against its nuclear programme.
Reuters reports that US State Department spokesman Tom Casey dismissed Iran's charges against Esfandiari, saying: "It's absolutely absurd to claim that this researcher ... poses a threat to the Iranian regime."
Casey described Esfandiari, a researcher with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, as a scholar whose work aimed to help Iranians and Americans better understand each other.
"She's a researcher. She's also a grandmother and a child of a very elderly parent back in Tehran and, you know, I hardly think of such stuff are revolutions made," Casey said.
The Washington Post reports that Wilson Center director Lee H. Hamilton also denied the allegations against Esfandiari, saying: "Haleh was not engaged in any activities to undermine any government, including the Iranian government. Nor does the Wilson Center engage in such activities.... There is not one scintilla of evidence to support these outrageous claims."