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Iran Holds Student Living In U.S. On Security Charges

Esha Momeni

Esha Momeni

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An Iranian female student, who was arrested in Tehran last month, is accused of acting against national security, the judiciary has said.

Women rights activists say Esha Momeni lives and studies in the United States and was in Iran for research on the women's movement in the Islamic Republic when she was detained on October 15.

In the first comment by the judicial authorities on the case, judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said Momeni was being held in Tehran's Evin prison.

"The charge against her is crime against national security and her case is currently under preliminary investigation," Jamshidi told a news conference, referring to a common charge against dissenting voices in the Islamic Republic.

He gave no further details about Momeni or her case.

An Iranian women's rights campaigner last month told Reuters Momeni was working on a film and had interviewed activists in Tehran as part of her studies in California.

Dozens Detained

Activists say dozens of them have been detained since they began a campaign in 2006 to collect 1 million signatures in support of demands to end what they see as legal discrimination of women in Iran.

Western diplomats see the detentions of women's rights activists as part of a wider clampdown on dissent by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government as it faces Western pressure over its disputed nuclear program.

Most of the women detained were freed within a few days or weeks. Iran rejects charges of abuse.

After Momeni's arrest in October, the campaign's website said she was a graduate student of the School of Communications, Media and Arts at California State University and came to Iran to visit her family and to work on a master's degree.

It said Iranian security officials had searched her home and seized property, including her computer and films which were part of her thesis project.

Institutionalized Discrimination

Her father, Gholamreza Momeni, who also studied in the United States but returned to Iran after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, said his daughter's films were a collection of interviews with social activists.

"These films were going to be shown just in the academic context of the university," he said in comments published on the campaign's website. "Esha was very sensitive about this topic."

Women activists in Iran say they face institutionalized discrimination that makes them second-class citizens in divorce, inheritance, child custody, and other aspects of life.

Iran's ruling clerics say women in the country are protected from the sex symbol status they have in the West.

Iran last year detained four Iranians with dual U.S. citizenship on security-related charges, drawing strong protests from Washington. They were later freed on bail.
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