Reports from Tehran Indicate that Haleh Esfandiari Has Been Formally Charged with Espionage and Endangering Iranian Security

Jun 11, 2007

WASHINGTON—The Woodrow Wilson Center has received reports indicating that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence has charged Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Center's Middle East Program, with espionage and "endangering national security through propaganda against the system." According to Iran's judiciary spokesman, Ali Reza Jamshidi, the Ministry of Intelligence is the "complainant" in the case. He said the case is "at the stage of preliminary investigation," but did not indicate whether the judiciary had decided that the case should go to trial. Two other Iranian-Americans, he stated, face similar charges.

"We are extremely disheartened to receive this news," said Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center. "Haleh is a scholar. The work she does at the Wilson Center is open, non-partisan, and includes a broad range of views. At the Wilson Center, we do not take positions on issues, but rather, we bring all sides of an issue together for dialogue. As director of the Middle East Program, Haleh ensured that there was an open dialogue and that she convened meetings which allowed participants and attendees to discuss all views. We do not engage in propaganda. The Wilson Center receives zero funding from the U.S. government's fund to promote democracy in Iran. Her detention is an affront to the rule of law and common decency. The Wilson Center's message to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go."

Haleh Esfandiari's husband and Professor of Middle East history at George Mason University, said "these charges against Haleh are totally without foundation; there is not a scrap of evidence to support them. She should be set free and allowed to rejoin her family."

Today marks the 36th day of Haleh Esfandiari's solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison. To date, she has been denied access to her mother, her cousins, the Swiss government, the ICRC, and her lawyers.

For more information, please see the timeline below, which explains in detail the events leading up to these completely unjustified and unfounded charges:

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

December 21, 2006, Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a dual Iranian-American national, traveled from Washington D.C. to Tehran, Iran to visit her 93-year old mother for one week.

On December 30, 2006, on her way to the airport to catch a flight back to Washington, the taxi in which Dr. Esfandiari was riding was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men. They threatened to kill her, and they took away all of her belongings, including her Iranian and American passports.

On January 3, when applying for replacement Iranian travel documents at the passport office, Dr. Esfandiari was invited to an ‘interview' by a man from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence.

Beginning on January 4, she was subjected to a series of interrogations that stretched out over the next six weeks, sometimes continuing for as many as four days a week, and sometimes stretching across seven and eight hours in a single day. Dr. Esfandiari went home every evening, but the interrogations were unpleasant and not free from intimidation and threat.

The questioning focused almost entirely on the activities and programs of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center. Dr. Esfandiari answered all questions fully; when she could not remember details of programs stretching back five and even eight years, the staff at the Wilson Center provided her all the information requested. As a public organization, all Wilson Center activities are on the public record. Repeatedly during the interrogation, she was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part, but she refused.

On Friday, January 15, in the third week of interrogations, Dr. Esfandiari was told (misleadingly as it turned out) the questioning was over. On January 18, the interrogator and three other men showed up at Dr. Esfandiari's mother's apartment. Dr. Esfandiari was taking a nap and was startled to wake up and see the door to her bedroom open, her privacy violated, and three strange men, one of them wielding a video-camera, staring into her bedroom.

On February 14, the lengthy interrogations stopped.

On February 17, Haleh received one threatening phone call, and then she did not hear anything from her interrogators for ten weeks.

On February 20, Lee Hamilton, president and director of the Wilson Center, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking that Dr. Esfandiari be allowed to travel. However, President Ahmadinejad did not reply to the letter.

At the end of April or early May, she was telephoned once again and invited to "cooperate." In effect, she was being asked to make a confession. She refused to make the false statements.

On Monday, May 7, she was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence once again. When she arrived for her appointment on Tuesday morning, May 8, she was put into a car and taken to Evin prison. She was incarcerated and was allowed only one phone call to her mother.

On May 9 she called her mother asking her to bring her clean clothes and her medicine. Her mother delivered the small package at Evin Prison on May 10, but was not allowed to see her.

On May 12, the hard-line daily Kayhan in an article accused Dr. Esfandiari of working with the U.S. and Israeli governments and with involvement in efforts to topple Iran's Islamic regime.

On May 15, Lee Hamilton sent a letter to HE Gholamali Haddad-Adel, The Speaker of the Majlis Shouray-e-Islami. There has been no reply.

On May 15, Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said that Dr. Esfandiari was being investigated for crimes against national security and that her case was being handled by the Intelligence Ministry.

On May 15, Haleh made a brief telephone call to her mother.

On May 16, Haleh's family retained the legal services of Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi to represent her.

On May 17, in an interview with Washington Post Staff Writer Robin Wright, Shirin Ebadi indicated that the Iranian government had rejected her request to represent Dr. Esfandiari. She also noted the court had refused information on the legal charges against Dr. Esfandiari and had denied her legal team the ability to see Haleh.

On May 21, Iranian–TV reported that Dr. Esfandiari was being charged with seeking to topple the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On May 29, Iran's judiciary spokesman issued a statement that the Ministry of Intelligence is the "complainant" against Dr. Esfandiari and that it has accused (or charged) her with espionage, actions against national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. He did not characterize in any way the judiciary's own position on these accusations or charges. He said the case was "at the stage of preliminary investigation." Two other Iranian-Americans, he said, face similar charges.

On June 11, Lee Hamilton responded to a report by ILNA news agency in Iran that Shirin Ebadi, the lawyer for Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, had been denied access to see Haleh. "It is outrageous and unacceptable that Haleh's lawyers have not even been permitted to see or communicate with her," said Hamilton. "This further underscores that Haleh's detention has no legal basis, and violates any international standard of justice and human rights." Shirin Ebadi stated that Matin Rassekh, the prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court branch handling Dr. Esfandiari's case, not only refused to meet with her, but did not even give her permission to enter the court building.

On June 12, reports from Tehran indicated that a judge will decide within the next few days whether to indict or free four Iranian-Americans charged with endangering national security, Iran's judiciary spokesman said Tuesday. Ali Reza Jamshidi said a judge would complete his preliminary investigation into the charge against the four, including Haleh Esfandiari, "within the next two or three days."

Since her incarceration on May 8, a period of 36 days, Dr. Esfandiari has been allowed around 23 or 24 very brief phone calls to her mother, usually in the late evening, but sometimes in the morning or afternoon, simply to say she is OK. These phone calls, clearly made in the presence of a minder, last barely two minutes, often much less, and Haleh is not allowed to say anything of substance during them.


Media with questions may reach Sharon McCarter at sharon.mccarter@wilsoncenter.org or at 202/691-4016.

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