In this week of giving thanks, we have a special two-part blog from associate editor Leila Emery on her Iranian peace prize-winning cousin and Iranian American writers.

When I hear that my cousin, Ramin Jahanbegloo, had been awarded the 2009 Peace Prize by the Association for the United Nations in Spain, my family and I were overjoyed that he was being recognized for his tireless advocacy for non-violence and his lifelong commitment to fostering constructive dialogue between divergent cultures.

In 2006 on his way to an international conference, Ramin, a steadfast advocate for human rights, was arrested bythe Iranian authorities and sent to the notorious Evin Prison. There, he was charged with “attempting to topple the Islamic regime” and conducting “cultural activities against Iran.” Amid suspicions that Ramin was being tortured, the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), an Iranian human rights group headed by Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, voiced concern over his arrest and jailing, but to no avail.

Soon after, more than 400 prominent international figures, including Nobel laureates, scholars and human rights activists, demanded Ramin’s immediate release in an open letter to the Iranian regime. Among the undersigned were Noam Chomsky, J.M. Coetzee, Umberto Eco, Antonio Negri, and Howard Zinn. Finally, after four months in prison, Ramin was released. He currently lives and teaches in Toronto, Canada; he continues to be a champion of human rights and democracy in Iran and worldwide.