- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2010

The last time Washington-based Iran scholar Mehdi Khalaji spoke with his father in Iran was late last month.

Mr. Khalaji’s father, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Khalaji, was excited because he planned to visit the United States and see his son for the first time in 10 years.

Those travel plans are now on hold after Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence arrested Ayatollah Khalaji at his home in the holy city of Qom.

“The officials do not give any explanation for why they took him and why they did this,” the younger Mr. Khalaji said in an interview with The Washington Times. “We do not know exactly where he is. We were informed by the special court of clerics that he was taken to Tehran, but we don’t know what to believe.”

The arrest of Ayatollah Khalaji highlights two trends in Iran as the country’s political crisis goes into its seventh month. The regime may now be going after the families of outspoken Iranian Americans still living in Iran as an intimidation tactic.

Mr. Khalaji, who is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been outspoken in his criticism of the Iranian regime since the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, summarily declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the June 12 presidential election.

“You are always concerned if they try to deal with a domestic issue by intimidating the diaspora at the moment the diaspora is becoming more politically active, said Ray Takeyh, another Iranian American analyst who has advised the State Department on the region in the past.

The arrest of Ayatollah Khalaji also highlights a new campaign against clerics inside the Islamic Republic who have been critical of the state’s crackdown on the opposition green movement.

Ayatollah Khalaji is a disciple of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who spent the last years of his life as a harsh critic of the regime and lived most of those years in Qom under house arrest.

Ayatollah Montazeri died in December and many of his followers were arrested in the aftermath of the funeral, which also became a rallying point for the opposition.

Another cleric who has been arrested recently is Emad Baghi, who was arrested at Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral.

Already the fate of Mr. Khalaji’s father has attracted solidarity in Washington. At an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Thursday, participants were urged to raise the issue in the media and through other diplomatic channels.

Mr. Khalaji said he decided to take his case to the media after all options in Iran to appeal the arrest have dried up.

“They deprive them from hiring a lawyer and usually a lawyer does not work for political prisoners,” he said. “We have no choice but to take this to others.”

Mr. Khalaji’s extended family, including his estranged daughter, was scheduled to visit him. But Mr. Khalaji said their passports and even birth certificates were confiscated by the state authorities. He said he also received anonymous e-mails that urged him to “save himself from his shame” for betraying Islam.

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