American freed in Iran denies links to rebel group
An Iranian-American businessman said today he spent some of his more than two years in prison alongside protesters detained in Iran's postelection crackdowns and praised his first taste of freedom as a blessing "no one can imagine."world Updated: Oct 17, 2010 21:44 IST
An Iranian-American businessman said Sunday he spent some of his more than two years in prison alongside protesters detained in Iran's postelection crackdowns and praised his first taste of freedom as a blessing "no one can imagine."
Reza Taghavi was released Saturday after five rounds of unusual face-to-face talks between Iranian officials and his American attorney - a former US diplomat who ultimately convinced authorities that his 71-year-old client had no links to a rebel group blamed for a deadly mosque bombing in 2008. Taghavi's 29-month detention drew far less international attention than the campaign to free three young Americans taken into custody last year along Iran's border with Iraq and accused of spying. But the conditions for release had clear similarities in apparent attempts to press Iranian grievances against Washington. Iranian officials required Taghavi to visit survivors of the mosque bombing in the southern city of Shiraz. Taghavi denies any ties to the suspected bombers, who Iran says receive support from the United States and other Western governments.
Last month, one of the three Americans detained along the Iraq border in July 2009, Sarah Shourd, was granted freedom on $500,000 bail, but could leave the country only after meeting with children of an Iranian woman jailed in the United States and visiting families of Iranians held for two years by American forces in Iraq. Shourd's two companions, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, remain in Tehran's Evin Prison and face possible trial on espionage charges. Shourd and the families of the other Americans deny they committed any crime and say they were just hiking in a scenic and relatively peaceful part of northern Iraq. They say that if the three did cross the border with Iran, they did so unwittingly.
"Freedom is something so good. No one can imagine. I hope everybody enjoys his freedom," Taghavi said in Tehran.
Taghavi - who regularly visits Iran to conduct business and see family - had been jailed for passing $200 to someone suspected of links to a rebel group known as Tondar, which seeks to topple the Islamic system and was implicated in the mosque bombing. Taghavi, who was never formally charged, denies knowingly supporting the faction. He told AP Television News that he was given the money by an acquaintance in the United States and "brought the money here without knowing anything about it."
"After a month, I was arrested for that because those people were the terrorists who bombed the mosque," added Taghavi, who lives in Southern California, which has a large Iranian immigrant community.
Iran has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of backing militants and ethnic opposition groups to destabilize the Tehran government. Both countries have denied the accusations. In 2009, Iran hanged three men convicted of a role in the bombing in Shiraz, about 550 miles (885 kilometers) south of Tehran. Taghavi said he spent part of his time in Tehran's Evin Prison in wards that held many detainees from the effort to crush dissent after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. Shourd and the other two Americans detained with her were also held in Evin.
Taghavi said he would return to Iran. "From now on I will try to have control on my activities a little more," he added. On Saturday, Taghavi's lawyer, Pierre Prosper, told the AP that his client "admitted to nothing and he continues to maintain his innocence."
Iranian officials are "comfortable that he was in fact used by this organization, and comfortable that he does not pose a threat to them and that he can leave and go back to the United States," said Prosper, who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes under the administration of President George W. Bush.
Prosper said he met Iranian officials five times since Taghavi's arrest: three sessions Iran and one each in New York and Europe. "He feels aggrieved. He feels used" by his friend back home who provided the cash, said Prosper.
Taghavi said prison authorities at Evin did not mistreat him and "didn't do anything wrong to me."
"They were kind to me, especially as I am old, and you know, they were watching carefully with me," said Taghavi, who plans to return to California via London on Thursday.
His wife, Mahnaz Taghavi, was overjoyed.
"I am the happiest woman in the whole world since I got my husband back, and thank God he is healthy and I love him," she told the AP.
While Taghavi never was charged formally or presented with paperwork indicating a charge, Prosper said there is a case within the Iranian justice system. He plans to meet with a judge during the week in hopes of getting that case dismissed.
The best way to describe the situation, the lawyer said Saturday, is that the case is suspended and Taghavi is free to leave. In Washington, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said Saturday the United States welcomes the "release of Reza Taghavi from detention in Evin Prison in Iran, and are pleased that he will soon be reunited with his family."
"We urge Iranian authorities to extend the same consideration to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, and other detained Americans by resolving their cases without delay," Clay said.
First Published: Oct 17, 2010 21:41 IST