Maryam (pseudonym) couldn’t believe it when she read the news. Iranian authorities had arrested Abbas Edalat, her professor of computer science and mathematics at London’s Imperial College, where she is studying for a PhD.
It was the New York-based watchdog Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that first broke the news that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had arrested Edalat on April 15.
The news, which was only reported on April 26, is especially baffling since Edalat has long been known for his steadfast activism against war and military intervention and against the Western sanctions on Iran. In 2005, he helped found the London-based Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII), which worked closely with the anti-war Stop the War Coalition in the UK.
“He was active against the war and sanctions,” Maryam, said in a phone interview with IranWire. “How is this in conflict with what the Iranian government wants? Don’t they also want the sanctions to go? For the country not to go to war? All he did was to defend his country.”
According to CHRI, Edalat’s house in Iran has been raided and his belongings — including his computer, CDs and notebooks — confiscated. Authorities had told him he could be released on bail but he refused to cooperate with the process, arguing his innocence, and was then arrested.
Maryam says Edalat is a brilliant professor who is very popular with students. “Whenever he puts a course up or offers a project, so many students want to work with him,” she said. “Scientifically, he is on top of his game.”
Trita Parsi, founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), has known Abbas since early the 2000s, when he was active in attempts to get computers and electronics into Iran.
Parsi says that while the NIAC both pushed against the war and criticized the Iranian government, Edalat and CASMII never criticized the government.
“They believed that any criticism of Iran would add to a very high-temperature environment and as a result potentially help move the atmosphere toward war,” he told IranWire in a phone interview.
Edalat and CASMII were indeed often criticized for being to close to Tehran’s line of arguments.
Speculations are rife as to the reason behind his arrest. According to CHRI, he was in Iran to attend an academic workshop. It is of note that Kaveh Madani, the celebrated environmental scientist who was recently forced out of a top government job after an eight-month stint, also taught at Imperial College.
Edalat is thought to be one of about 30 or so dual nationals who has been detained by Iran since the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. Those detained include other British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Forough, who have been in jail since 2016 and 2011 respectively.
Parsi sees an emerging pattern in the arrests. “They are going after people who have played a role in bringing an end to conflict and avoiding war,” he told IranWire. “These individuals seem to be more targeted. Hardliners in Iran are more fearful of those trying to build bridges than those happy to see the bridges being burnt down.”