Amnesty International, among other human rights organizations, sponsored a vigil today at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza for Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, who has been incarcerated in solitary confinement for over a month in Tehran's … Read More
Amnesty International, among other human rights organizations, sponsored a vigil today at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza for Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, who has been incarcerated in solitary confinement for over a month in Tehran's gruesome Evin Prison. The charge against her? Spying for the United States. She had traveled back to Iran to visit her ailing mother and was arrested by Iran's secret police.
Below are some photos I took this afternoon of what turned out to be a pretty impressive event, given the time of day and also the oppressive heat.
I managed to speak briefly with Shaul Bakhash, Dr. Esfandiari's husband. Had the Iranian regime issued any statement as to Haleh's treatment and well-being? Mr. Bakhash said she's been interrogated around the clock, denied visitors and contact with legal representation. He personally has not spoken to or communicated with her since her arrest. She's apparently been allowed to talk to her mother over the phone for a total of two minutes per week. I asked Mr. Bakhash if he thought the United States was doing all it could to hasten his wife's release. He replied that given the status of U.S.-Iranian dialogue, there wasn't much Washington could do except pressure other international actors to lobby on Haleh's behalf, something they have been doing dutifully, if to no avail.
Here's a portion of the letter Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize-winning Iranian human rights lawyer, who's taken Dr. Esfandiari as her client, wrote to the head of the Iranian judiciary Ayatollah Sharoudi:
The punishment for rape according to the criminal law is death. How is it that a researcher and university professor, Haleh Esfandiari, and a translator and journalist, Parnaz Azima, have come to be regarded by the angel of justice as more dangerous than a criminal [taxi] driver, so that one of them has to remain in prison in solitary confinement, while the other remains banned from traveling even after posting bond [fifty] times the amount set for a law-breaking driver. [Note: As reported in an Iranian newspaper, the clipping of which was attacked to Ebadi's letter, a taxi driver raped a female passenger earlier this month. The victim took the driver's registration papers, and he was easily apprehended by the police. He went to prison after being unable to post a modest bail of 100 million rials, or $12,500. Dr. Esfandiari's bail is set at 500 million tomans, or $600,000. –ed]
Unfortunately, similar examples are not few in the judiciary and suggest that the politically accused are treated even more harshly than ordinary accused; and that the rights extended to the ordinary accused are denied the politically accused.
This reflects the intrusion of politics in the administration of justice. I hope that, in the order that you will issue, such practices will end and that my clients will be freed immediately and can return to their houses and homes.
Other politically accused captives of the Islamic Republic include:
Dr. Kian Tajbaksh, an urban planner and social scientist affiliated with the New School for Social Research in New York City. He's been held in Evin Prison since May 11 after being arrested at home in Tehran.
Ali Shakeri, a businessman and peace activist native to California. In March 2007, he also traveled to Iran to visit his ailing mother who died while he was there. Shakeri was "disappeared" shortly after her funeral, as he prepared to board his plane back to the U.S. The Iranian government is holding him in Evin Prison for "conducting activities against national security."
Parnaz Azima, an employee of Radio Farda, Persian language division of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. While visiting her family in Tehran, she had her passport and suitcases confiscated by the authorities. She was told to visit a government office in 10 days to reclaim them, and upon her arrival there she was asked to cooperate with the Iranian intelligence services. She refused. The charge against her is related to her work with Radio Farda, which the regime claims "spreads propaganda against the Islamic Republic." Azima posted bail of $440,000 and remains under house arrest.
To show your solidarity with Esfandiari and others, visit www.freehaleh.org.