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Iran: Human Rights Watch Condemns Scholar's Arrest

Haleh Esfandiari (official website) May 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari has been arrested in Tehran after being barred from leaving the country four months ago. Esfandiari, the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center's Middle East Program in Washington, has endured repeated interrogations about her work and was imprisoned on May 8. Hadi Ghaemi, a Human Rights Watch researcher on Iran, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari (no relation to Haleh Esfandiari) by phone on May 9.

RFE/RL: What is the latest news you have about Haleh Esfandiari?

Hadi Ghaemi: She was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry [on May 8] and after that she was transferred to Evin prison. This is the latest news we have but there is no information on the basis of what legal process she has been detained.

RFE/RL: There has been no official comment from Iranian officials about her case but there is a lot of speculation, including that she has been detained by Iran's government in reaction to [the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and its] $75 million budget to promote democracy in Iran, or that she has become a victim of an internal power struggle. Why do you think Iran has jailed such a prominent scholar?

Ghaemi: She was arrested following weeks of interrogation about her work. The interesting point is that Dr. Esfandiari is a prominent international figure and an academic. She is an expert on Iran and her writings tell a lot about her and there is no reason to connect her to the U.S. [program to promote democracy in Iran]. Unfortunately it's not the first time that the Iranian government...[charges innocent] people -- even before the U.S. government started to follow such policy.... This is more a move by the Iranian government for its own interests and maybe it is part of factional fighting in Iran.

RFE/RL: Haleh Esfandiari is the second Iranian-American who has been prevented from leaving Iran, as Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima has also a similar problem, although she has not been detained. What do you think are the consequences of these actions by the Iranian government?

Ghaemi: It is clear that this will put Iran in a crisis situation. It isolates Iran; it limits Iran's ties with the outside world. With this move, they threaten all Iranians living outside the country that their return could bring them problems.

RFE/RL: In recent months pressure on women's rights activists, students, and workers has increased in Iran. Your organization has protested against the increased state pressure. Is the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari the continuation of the ongoing crackdown on activists and intellectuals?

Ghaemi: Mrs. Esfandiari is an academic, a cultural figure, and a civil-society activist. Therefore, yes, all of these arrests are aimed at creating [security] conditions in the country. Two days ago another women's rights activist [Zeinab Peyghambarzadeh] was arrested, two [student activists] from Tehran's Amir Kabir University have been detained, and still a number of the members of the teachers union are in jail and all of these are a show of power by a certain faction [in the government] that is targeting independent individuals.

RFE/RL: What is Human Rights Watch's reaction to the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari?

Ghaemi: We strongly condemn this arrest and we remind the Iranian government that Haleh Esfandiari -- based on Iranian laws and Iran's international commitments -- has the right to enter and exit Iran; she has the right to travel freely [within the country]. This Iranian move is without any legal basis. It is another violation of human rights.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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