A leading advocate for women's rights and a true force for peace has been imprisoned in Iran where she had returned to care for her 93 year old mother. Any word from NOW?
Dr. Haleh Esfandiari is the Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. She is a 67-year-old Iranian-American who came to the US over 25 years ago. A recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Grant, she is an expert on Middle Eastern women's issues and Iranian affairs.
Dr. Esfandiari is held in high regard by academics and civil society professionals across the Middle East. She has organized many seminars in the region bringing together diverse Middle Eastern thinkers, particularly women's rights experts. She is known for her kind demeanor, academic integrity, and enthusiastic networking.
Dr. Esfandiari regularly travels to Iran to visit her elderly mother. On December 30, 2006, she was in Iran heading to Tehran's international airport to return to Washington. Masked gunmen ambushed her taxi and stole her luggage, including her Iranian and U.S. passports.
When Dr. Esfandiari went to replace her passport, she was sent to the Intelligence Ministry for interrogation. For four months she was held under effective house arrest and repeatedly interrogated. In February, Lee Hamilton, the director of the Wilson Center, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking that Dr. Esfandiari be allowed to leave Iran. He received no reply.
In early May, Dr. Esfandiari received a call from the ministry suggesting she "cooperate" (i.e., confess), an offer she declined. On May 8, security forces took her away to Evin Prison, though she has not been formally charged with any crime. Evin Prison is notorious its harsh treatment of political prisoners. In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi was killed during her interrogation in the prison.