Academic jailed without charge in Iran

Professor held incommunicado on unknown charges

Retired Canadian-Iranian academic Homa Hoodfar, who was detained in Iran on June 6, 2016. AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

A retired university professor with dual Iranian and Canadian nationality who is an expert on women’s issues in the Middle East has been detained without charges in Tehran, her family said.

Homa Hoodfar, 65 was initially arrested in March, two days before she was due to fly back to Canada after visiting relatives in Iran. Officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard raided her home and seized her belongings, including her passport and computer. After several days of questioning she was formally arrested and released on bail. Neither she nor her lawyer know what the charges against her were.

On Monday, the Revolutionary Guard summoned the professor for questioning at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Her family have heard nothing of her since, which was why they decided to go public, said Ms Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, said on Thursday.

Ms Hoodfar is the latest Iranian with ties to the West to be detained in Iran since the regime agreed to limit the development of its nuclear programme. Two Iranian-Americans – one of them an 80-year-old – and a US resident from Lebanon are also in custody. Her family insist Ms Hoodfar is not involved in Iranian politics.

After graduating in economics from the University of Tehran, she did a master’s degree at the University of Manchester and gained her doctorate in social anthropology from the University of Kent in the UK. She has lived in Montreal for 30 years and until recently, she taught in the anthropology department at Concordia University, specialising in culture and gender studies with a particular interest in the role of women in Middle Eastern societies.

She travelled to Iran in February after the death of her husband to visit relatives and also to do research in the library of the Iranian parliament as 17 women had been elected that month.

Her niece said, “We’re very confused and baffled by what’s going on because those who know Homa either personally or through her academic work know she’s ... someone who’s incredibly even-handed and balanced. She’s not political. She’s not an activist, and if anything, she has worked to improve the lives of women in different contexts, including Iran.”

Canada closed its embassy in Tehran in 2012 because of Iran’s nuclear programme. Since then, the Italian embassy has protected Canada’s interests in Iran. The Canadian foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion acknowledged that not having an embassy complicated matters.

“It would be easier to have an embassy in Iran, but it’s not the case,” he said. “We will do everything we can [by] working with the like-minded countries that are in Iran.”

Since Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of severe economic sanctions, the powerful Revolutionary Guard have increasingly targeted Iranians with dual nationality. In January, four Iranian-Americans, including the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, were freed in a prisoner exchange.

* Associated Press