California State University, Northridge (CSUN) graduate student Esha Momeni was arrested on Oct. 15 in Tehran, Iran and was escorted to her relatives’ home after a routine traffic stop. The officers allegedly confiscated her computer containing research that Momeni was collecting on a women’s movement for her master’s thesis. An Amnesty International report states that she was taken into custody after the search.
This California-born Iranian-American with dual citizenship moved back to Iran as a child, but recently returned to the United States to study at Northridge two years ago.
Although major details of the situation are still vague, Momeni, back in Tehran visiting and working on her dissertation, was arrested by intelligence officials posing as traffic police and held for nearly a month in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Amnesty International, a worldwide movement that campaigns for the international recognition of human rights for all, reported fears of Momeni being at risk for “torture or other ill treatment.”
Soon after, co-workers and friends who worked with Momeni on the One Million Signatures campaign, a campaign that demands the change of discriminatory laws in Iran, launched the “Free Esha” blog and petition.
Professors from various university campuses have signed the petition, which currently has 3,500 endorsements, as her story has gained more and more attention within the academic community. Seventeen professors at UC Irvine have signed the petition, including Nasrin Rahimieh, chair and director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies.
Rahimieh, who first heard about the situation through Momeni’s friends and acquaintances, does not know the specific details of the case.
However, Rahimieh said she signed the petition because she was “concerned that the reason for [Momeni’s] arrest is rooted in the subject of her inquiry and the material she gathered for her thesis while in Iran. I felt that it was crucial to defend her human and academic rights.”
In the last two years, Rahimieh served as the president of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS). She described how the ISIS Committee on Academic Freedom, dedicated to issuing letters after reviewing cases relating to academic freedom, is actively involved in other signed letters of protest and petitions against Iranian and Iranian-American detentions.
Rahimieh said that although this particular case has not received as much attention as others before it, it has had its share of publicity.
“Esha’s involvement in the One Million Signatures campaign makes her fate more immediately palpable for a large network of people we might not see in other instances,” Rahimieh said.
Many other academic as well as human rights organizations are concerned about Momeni’s situation. In a Los Angeles Times report published on Oct. 23, CSUN President Jolene Koester stated that Momeni is “a student invested in learning and understanding current conditions in the country of her family’s origin … [and that] anyone who values knowledge and the role of academic inquiry in shedding light on the human condition should be concerned.”
Momeni was released on bail Nov. 10 with the deed for her family’s Tehran apartment as collateral.
The “Free Esha” blog claims to be the only legitimate voice of Momeni and her family. They stated that according to the deputy general prosecutor of Tehran, Hasan Hadad, the charge against Momeni is “propaganda against the state.” The blog also details that despite Alireza Jamshidi, spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary, saying that there are “no obstacles for [Momeni] to leave the country,” her passport has not been returned and she was told by officials that she does not have permission to leave.
The current accusation against Momeni is promoting propaganda against the state, said Peyman Malaz, campaign member, blog contributer and close friend who is personally in contact with Momeni’s immediate family.
Within the last two years 61 women activists have been arrested for voicing their objection on the discriminatory laws in Iran, Malaz said.
As details of the story continue to unfold, Momeni’s co-workers and friends from the One Million Signatures campaign who contribute to the “Free Esha” blog urge others to allow these sources to speak on Momeni’s behalf. They are concerned that due to the sensitivity of this issue, other citizens and organizations that may not be fully aware of the facts can unintentionally endanger Momeni rather than help.
More information and updates on Momeni’s situation can be found at http://for-esha.blogspot.com/.