Legal Scholar Held in Iran Was Scheduled to Teach at Penn

September 03, 2008

An Iranian scholar who was scheduled to teach this term at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has been detained in Tehran, and reportedly has been held in prison for more than two weeks.

The scholar, Mehdi Zakerian, was awaiting clearance from the Department of Homeland Security for a visa to travel to the United States when he was detained in August, according to a statement on the law school’s Web site. “The Iranian government has not released any information about his location or condition, nor have any formal charges been brought against him,” the statement says. The International League for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch joined the law school in calling for Mr. Zakerian’s release.

Until about a year ago, Mr. Zakerian was a professor at the University of Tehran, a state institution, but he and dozens of other professors were removed from their positions in a wave of firings that began after Iran’s arch-conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came to power, in 2005. Mr. Zakerian is now a professor of human rights at Islamic Azad University, an independent institution that has repeatedly been singled out for criticism by President Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Zakerian is also chairman of the Iranian International Relations Society and a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies of the Middle East. The center is the only scholarly organization in Iran that deals with Israel as a political entity, notes William Burke-White, an assistant professor at Penn Law who helped to arrange for Mr. Zakerian to come to Penn as a visiting scholar.

The online publication Iran Human Rights Voice noted that Mr. Zakerian’s detention followed the June arrests of Kamiar and Arash Alaei, two physician brothers who are well-known AIDS researchers in Iran.

Kamiar Alaie is a student at the State University of New York at Albany’s School of Public Health, and had been expected to return for the start of classes last Monday, Mary Applegate, the school’s associate dean for academic affairs, said last week. The brothers apparently are being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on charges of colluding with anti-government organizations. —Aisha Labi