An update on Bijan Khajehpour
A couple of weeks ago, I drew attention to the arrest of respected business consultant Bijan Khajehpour as an example of the situation of hundreds of Iranians detained after the disputed presidential election on June 12. At the time, Bijan’s whereabouts, state of health and conditions, as well as any charges against him, were unknown.
We now know that Bijan is being held at Tehran’s Evin prison, where most political prisoners are detained. He was one of the defendants at the second mass trial of people accused of plotting a “velvet coup” to overthrow the regime. The second one-day trial focused on people with contacts with Western countries. Bijan’s company advises many European corporations on doing business in Iran. His client list is a who’s who of international energy, engineering and automotive companies. The German Foreign Minister has called publicly for his release.
Bijan is apparently in good health and receiving his diabetics medicines, but his glasses were taken away from him when he was imprisoned, and he is almost blind without them. He has thusbeen deprived of his sight as well as his freedom for the last seven weeks. He has grown a beard and lost weight. His home was raided while his family was out of the country. His office was searched in his presence the day after his arrest. Security authorities removed computers and files.
Bijan was photographed by the semi-official Fars news agency in court (centre in the picture). He was on the B-list of the trial that included French researcher Clotilde Reiss and British embassy local staffer Hossein Rassam.
His family have not been notified of the charges against him and Iranian news agencies did not report them. He was not allowed access to a lawyer, and none of the defendants was represented by legal counsel in court. Most of the accused were charged with espionage, harming national security or transmitting information on the post-election unrest to foreigners. Bijan had a chance encounter with a lawyer outside the courtroom and told him he denied the charges against him in court. His statement was not reported by the Iranian news agencies, which have only reported selected “confessions”.
Since my first post, I have received several messages from business contacts, diplomats, officials of international organisations and NGO members involved with Iran saying what a wonderful person Bijan is. Many underlined his patriotism, his dedication to developing the Iranian economy and to attracting talented young Iranians from inside and outside the country to invest and set up companies there, and his sustained efforts to promoting business education in his homeland.
Bijan is not a political activist and was abroad during the height of the turmoil that followed the presidential election. He was on a speaking tour to business audiences in Vienna and London.
What message are the Iranian authorities trying to send by arresting probably the country’s leading business consultant and putting him through a mass trial? If they wanted to discourage foreign investment, they could hardly do better. Do they want to deter other Iranians from facilitating foreign investment and from encouraging Iranians living in Europe, the Gulf and north America to set up businesses in Iran? Or does the mere fact of having business contacts abroad and being well connected with Western officials and academics make him automatically a “suspect”, as during the French revolutionary terror?
As an official at a major European oil company that is one of Bijan’s clients puts it: “Why would Iran arrest someone who was working so hard for the good of his country?”