Saturday, May 12, 2007

Detained Iranian American Academic - Deja vu 1979?

You don't seem to hear much about the Iranian-American academic detained in Iran. (The one you read about here). Despite the assertion in the Iran Press Service article that the Arrest of Iranian-American Academic is part of power struggle in Tehran. Or their assertion that:

The United States has not faced this kind of tension over Americans held in Iran since the 1979-1981 hostage crises, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days. Like in the case of Ms. Azima, the Wilson Center and Mrs. Esfandiari’s family had sought to avoid publicity in hopes that she would be granted a new passport.

Well, that would explain why she's been getting jerked around since December and we're just hearing about it now. From

Ms. Esfandiari’s ordeal began on Dec. 30, when she was en route to the airport to return to Washington, according to the Wilson Center. Three masked gunmen waylaid her taxi and stole her luggage, including her Iranian and American passports. The Intelligence Ministry is notorious for staging such crimes. When Ms. Esfandiari went to replace her passport, she was sent to the ministry for interrogation, the Wilson center’s statement said. Ms. Esfandiari said that most questions focused on her work and that the answers were public information. The center said she refused to make any false statements about its work.

It doesn't explain this:

The arrest of Mrs. Haleh Esfandiari, a prominent Iranian-American academic working at the Wilson Woodrow Centre’s Middle East Programme is part of the ongoing cut throat power struggle in Tehran between the hard liners and the moderates, according to many Iranian political analysts.

Or the start of possible negotiations with Washington? Say what?

The arrest of Mrs. Esfandiari, of Mrs. Parnaz (Nazi) Azima, of Mr. Hoseyn Moussavian, of several Iranian journalists, intellectuals, students and female activists etc are part of this inner fight in the Iranian regime’s highest echelons, having it roots in the possible start of direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington.

Human Rights Watch condemns her detention. With more hints of a power struggle afoot:

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.

The offers this insight into her situation:

Lee H. Hamilton, the director of the Wilson Center and a former congressman, wrote to Mr. Ahmadinejad in February asking that Ms. Esfandiari be allowed to leave Iran. He did not receive a reply.

The International Society for Iranian Studies Committee for Academic Freedom is deeply troubled.

We are deeply troubled by the news of the arrest and detention of the internationally distinguished and respected Iranian-born academic Dr. Haleh Esfandiari in Tehran on May 8. Dr. Esfandiari is currently the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., a publicly - and privately-funded nonpartisan research institution devoted to the promotion of national and international dialogue.

The Woodrow Wilson Center's statement. Well, let's just say they don't sound like they are exactly knocking themself out...

Those efforts to obtain her release will continue and will be redoubled. She will be in our thoughts and prayers every day.

From Shaul Bakhash, Helen's husband via the Iran Defence Forum:

Whatever they think my wife did seems to be in their imagination; she hasn’t done anything wrong,” said Shaul Bakhash, her husband, a well-known Iran expert who is a professor of Middle East history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “I hope they realize that they made this mistake and let her return to her family.”Ms. Esfandiari, who left Iran at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution, had returned twice annually over the past decade to visit her mother, an ailing 93-year-old widow, Mr. Bakhash said.

Helen was singled out in a State Dept briefing about First Lady Laura Bush's 2005 trip to Afghanistan with this opening remark shout out:

And our friend, Haleh Esfandiari, I know about the tremendous events you've organized at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, mobilizing incredible forces of experts and activists on behalf of these (women’s) issues.

And last but not least (but maybe the lamest...) a condemnation from State:

The State Department Wednesday condemned Iran's detention of Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari and journalist Parnaz Azima and acknowledged a growing problem with Tehran over its actions against U.S. and dual U.S.-Iranian citizens.

"We want to see them returned back to their families," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "These two women are an academic on the one hand, a journalist on the other. These people don't pose any threat to the Iranian regime.

"They are both grandmothers, and so I am not sure what it is the Iranian government has to fear from these ladies," he added.

Maybe he should send Grandma Pelosi over in a hostage swap? Ok, that might sound mean, but here's the deal. I don't think they'd be keeping Grandma Pelosi long.