The photos depict an elderly gentleman dressed in clerical robes enjoying the calm of his private study surrounded by well-ordered bookshelves: a calm refuge in a cacophonous world, an orderly heaven in the midst of the chaotic environment, a learned man’s attempt at achieving peace. The gentleman in the photos is Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Khalaji, a religious scholar in the holy city of Qom, and father of Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
But Ayatollah Khalaji’s peaceful realm would not endure. On January 19, his home in Qom was attacked by agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, who, without presenting any formal charges, arrested him and seized his only possessions (books and personal papers). Intelligence Ministry agents also confiscated the passports and travel documents of the entire Khalaji family — including those of his 15-year-old granddaughter — who were planning to visit Mehdi Khalaji in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of Iranian New Year in March.
There will be little for Mehdi Khalaji to celebrate this new year. Ayatollah Khalaji will most likely be handed over to the Special Clerical Court, Iran’s Inquisition Tribunal, for criticizing the regime’s inhumane treatment of political prisoners, and perhaps also for his son’s scholarly work in the United States. Poisoned pens indeed suggest that not only Mehdi Khalaji’s work at the Washington Institute, but also the work of his colleagues at the institute, may be the reason for his father’s imprisonment, and they take aim at the unity of the Khalaji family, even going so far as to indirectly demand that Khalaji père denounce his own son. This is how the so-called Islamic Republic treats the family, the very foundation of any society.
The Khalajis represent the fathers and sons and mothers and daughters of Iran. They may be persecuted, but they can’t be conquered. They may be prosecuted by the Iranian Inquisition, but they will prevail in the eyes of the public because of their moral courage. They may be imprisoned, but they will remain inwardly free. They may be accused of treason by mercenary pens abroad, but treacherous is the one who betrays the cause of freedom of thought and dignity, not those who endure persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment for insisting upon the rights of man.
– Ali Alfoneh is a visiting research fellow at American Enterprise Institute.