Where is Bijan Khajehpour?
On June 27, Iranian business consultant Bijan Khajehpour landed at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport on a flight from London. His driver saw him in the arrival lounge. Bijan was paged over the loudspeaker and taken away by security men. He has not been seen for more than a month. He has had no access to lawyers. His wife and two young daughters do not know who is holding him, where or why. He is a diabetic and his family fears for his health.
Khajehpour is one of hundreds of Iranians who have been arrested since protests erupted over a disputed presidential election on June 12 in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially declared the winner. Unlike many of those locked up, he is not a political activist, a demonstrator or a journalist. Indeed, he was out of the country, giving talks to business groups in Vienna and London, at the height of the protests.
Khajehpour has dedicated the last 16 years to encouraging and helping foreign companies to invest in Iran. He founded a company, Atieh Bahar Consulting, with his wife, Pari Namazie, which advises firms on how to do business in Iran, guides them through the the Islamic Republic’s thickets of red tape and explains the complex political and regulatory environment. A multilingual economist with degrees from universities and business schools in Germany, Britain and France, he has writen scholarly articles on the Iranian economy.
I first met Bijan at an oil industry conference in London in 1997 and visited him several times at his offices in Tehran. A proud patriot, he chose to return home rather than make his fortune comfortably in Europe after his studies. He explains the political economy of Iran economics with passion and an irrepressible optimism. When he is not busy promoting Iran as a business location, he is active as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Science and Arts Foundation in Iran, an NGO focusing on the empowerment of Iranian youth through information technology. An active intellectual in civil society, he has devoted his life to improving the economy, education and opportunities for poor people in his country.
Bijan is only one of the hundreds of people detained without trial in Iran in the last month. Each has a name and face, friends and a family. This is just one such tale.