Academic: ‘I saw jail as a fact-finding mission’

July 26, 2013 in Media

A FORMER North-East academic jailed as a political prisoner in his native Iran has been freed and returned to the UK, The Northern Echo can reveal. Reza Molavi, a former head of Durham University’s Centre for Iranian Studies, has revealed how he had his passport seized on trying to return to the UK in June 2010, was arrested at his Tehran home the next morning and detained at the notorious Evin Prison.

He was repeatedly interrogated and held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell for four months. In January last year, he was convicted of aiding a “velvet revolution” and jailed for three years, before being released last October. In total, he spent about 15 months behind bars.

But speaking exclusively to The Northern Echo in London, he refused to condemn the Iranian regime, calling his ordeal a “great opportunity” for “field research”. The 67-year-old now wants to be a bridge between Iran and the West, travelling between the two and teaching university students in his homeland.

He said: “I don’t want to become bitter. I want to spread goodwill. “I want to work to leave them with an impression that they can live with the West in peace and harmony.”

Dr Molavi also wants to use his experiences to inform debate among academics and policy-makers. Secret diplomatic cables from April 2008 released through the controversial Wikileaks website suggested a named Durham University academic, not Dr Molavi, sought £273,000 in US funding to develop contacts in Iran.
Dr Molavi claims he twice refused to be involved because he did not want to be seen as “spying or pimping for some foreign government”. Iranian-born and US-educated, Dr Molavi was in Durham from 2003 to 2010, first as a PhD student and then on the university staff. He was detained in Tehran in June 2010 having returned home to his ill mother. Plainclothed agents, who he said were extremely respectful, seized his computers, mobile phones, books and articles and took him to Evin Prison, known to house the regime’spolitical enemies.

There, he was repeatedly interrogated although, he emphasises, never physically abused. He was kept in a four-metre square cell and it was three months before his wife was allowed to visit him. However, after being released,he was invited to lecture at Tehran University, given his passport back and allowed to leave the country.

He said: “To me it was all an expedition – a fact-finding mission. I look at it as field research. “It has given me better understanding of politics in the Middle East and particularly in my home country. “It gives me the impetus to be of service for peace and harmony – to be a bridge between the Anglo-Saxon countries and my own country.

“And it opened my eyes to how hypocritical and how stupid some of these highly acclaimed professors in Ivy League universities are and how separated they are from reality.”

By Mark Tallentire

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