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US academic slams Iran president

By Lee Bollinger - posted Thursday, 27 September 2007

Over the last two weeks, your government has released Dr Haleh Esfandiari and Parnaz Axima; and just two days ago Kian Tajbakhsh, a graduate of Columbia with a PhD in urban planning.

While our community is relieved to learn of his release on bail, Dr Tajbakhsh remains in Tehran, under house arrest, and he still does not know whether he will be charged with a crime or allowed to leave the country.

Let me say this for the record, I call on the President today to ensure that Kian Tajbakhsh will be free to travel out of Iran as he wishes.


Let me also report today that we are extending an offer to Dr Tajbakhsh to join our faculty as a visiting professor in urban planning here at his alma mater, in our Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

And we hope he will be able to join us next semester. The arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian Americans, for no good reason, is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow today's speaker to even appear on this campus.

But at least they are alive.

According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executed in Iran so far this year - 21 of them on the morning of September 5 alone.

This annual total includes at least two children - further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors.

There is more. Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more open, democratic society in Iran. Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.


These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called "soft revolution". This has included jailing and forced retirements of scholars.

We, at this university, have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won't be shy in criticising yours. Let's, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.

And so I ask you: Why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues, become targets of persecution in your country?

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First published in The Courier-Mail on September 26, 2007. This is an edited extract of a speech given at the SIPA-World Leaders Forum with President of Iran. The speech is available on YouTube here.

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About the Author

Lee C. Bollinger became the nineteenth President of Columbia University on June 1, 2002.

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