Haleh Esfandiari was prevented from returning to the US in December 2006, arrested on May 8, and recently accused of working to disrupt Iranian sovereignty. Esfandiari, who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, works as the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, in Washington DC. Part of her job includes planning conferences for Iranian leaders, civil, academic, and governmental, in the US on issues involving Iran. Last December, while en route to the Tehran airport, her luggage, which held both passports, was confiscated; effectively preventing her from leaving the country. Since December 2006 and her arrest in early May 2007, Esfandiari was repeatedly interrogated and denied access to legal counsel. In addition to Dr. Esfandiari, two other Iranian-Americans (Ali Shakeri and Kian Tajbakhsh) are in currently in Iranian prison and a fourth, Parnaz Azima, had her passport confiscated and as a result she is prevented from leaving Iran.
There are various theories as to why Iran is currently detaining four Iran-American citizens. First, that the hard-liners in the Iranian government are hoping to derail US-Iranian talks regarding the war in Iraq. Second, that the Iranian government hopes to use the detainees as leverage to negotiate a prisoner trade to guarantee the release of the five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq in early January 2007. Regardless to the reason behind Esfandiari’s and the other Iranian-Americans’ detentions, analysts agree that there is no rational basis and that the detainees should be released.
For more information, please see:
CNN: “Iranian-American political prisoners” 25 May 2007.
Human Rights Watch: “Iran: Another Iranian-American Scholar Detained” 24 May 2007.
CNN: “Iran imprisons 4th Iranian-American” 23 May 2007.
NY Times: “Iran Accuses American of Revolution Plot” 22 May 2007.
BBC: “Iran accuses US-Iranian scholar” 22 May 2007.
BBC: “US-Iranian academic detained in Iran” 9 May 2007.