Esfandiari Charged With Serious Crime

Esfandiari charged with Serious Crime

The Iranian government has now charged detained Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari with trying to overthrow the current regime, according to the Washington Post’s Robin Wright. This AP article calls it a “soft revolution.”

How was she going to do this? By academic interchanges and conferences!

I think I speak for all college teachers in saying that we are all just kicking ourselves. We had never realized that we could get rid of a whole government that way. I mean, having interchanges and holding conferences is practically all we do. We’d never even been aware of affecting, in that way, who the department chairs were in our own institutions! We all have a list of regimes we’d like to see gone, so I guess we should plan out that fall colloquium on Spencer’s Faerie Queen right away!

She is also accused of taking money from George Soros’s Open Society Institute. I thought only Fox Cable News minded a thing like that! We now discover that the Iranian “Ministry of Intelligence” is an oxymoron.

I hear that David Horowitz and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are planning jointly to propose an Academic Bill of Rights that makes sure those nasty academic conferences don’t end up having any effect on the real world, the running of which should be left to . . . David Horowitz and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Gary Sick, a political scientist at Columbia University and head of Gulf2000, reacted this way to the bizarre Iranian claims:

‘ Needless to say, any institution that was conducting exchanges with Iranians would have “invited Iranians to attend conferences, offered them research projects, scholarships … and tried to lure influential elements and link them to decision-making centers in America” (as alleged by the “charges” broadcast today).

That is exactly what the [Institue for Policy and International Studies] (IPIS, the “think tank” of the Iranian foreign ministry) does with Americans. It invites them to Iran to attend conferences, it solicits research and writing that it then publishes, and it tries to attract the most engaged and influential Americans, with the very clear purpose of getting them to know Iran better and to give Iranians a perspective into American thinking.

That is what exchanges are about. It does not in any way imply that IPIS is trying to overthrow the US government; and the suggestion that the Wilson Center, by organizing conferences and providing a forum where leading Iranian scholars and thinkers could be heard by a US audience, was trying to overthrow the government of Iran is simply absurd.

The effort by Iran’s security services to transform serious and legitimate scholars into spies is so transparently ludicrous that one is forced to ask what their real motives are in persecuting innocent people, and why the senior leadership of Iran, who know these charges to be false, do not assert themselves in this matter.’

Amnesty International has a convenient form for sending protest emails to the Iranian government.

Haleh’s former students in particular are invited to sign for her at this Wilson Center site.

Also on Monday, the American Association of University Professors issued a protest letter.

May 21, 2007

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Pasteur Ave
Tehran 13168-43311

Dear President Ahmadinejad:

The American Association of University Professors, which for more than ninety years has been the foremost organization in the United States defending principles of academic freedom, is alarmed by reports that Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, was arrested in Tehran on May 8 on grounds that she is being investigated for “crimes against national security.” Dr. Esfandiari is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran and a frequent visitor to Iran. Her arrest was reportedly preceded by her being questioned at length over several months by Iranian intelligence officials about the activities and programs of the Wilson Center’s Middle East programs.

This Association cannot but view Dr. Esfandiari’s arrest as inimical to internationally accepted principles of the free pursuit of knowledge. We reject the premise that displeasure with what scholars write about government policies or with scholarly projects with which they are associated are appropriate bases for their being detained, questioned, and arrested by government authorities.

We urge that Dr. Esfandiari be released from prison immediately and that she be allowed to return to her academic work in the United States, consistent with the traditional freedom of the Iranian academic community and with principles of academic freedom that are essential to independent scholarly endeavors around the world.


Ernst Benjamin
Executive Director

cc: Lee H. Hamilton, Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Professor Zachary Lockman, President, Middle East Studies Association


Here is another letter of protest signed by academics, many of them experts in Iranian or Middle East Studies, and many of whom have taken lumps for opposing the Neocon plan to destroy the country:

‘ Statement by Scholars of Iran and the Middle East Protesting the Detention of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari by the Iranian Government
(Released on May 21, 2007)

The arbitrary detention and confinement of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, a prominent Iranian-American scholar and the director of the Middle East program at the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., is the latest distressing episode in an ongoing crackdown by the Islamic Republic against those who, directly or indirectly, strive to bolster the foundations of civil society and promote human rights in Iran. Over the past year-and-a-half, this onslaught has targeted prominent women’s rights activists, leaders of non-governmental organizations, student and teacher associations, and labor unions. In recent weeks, scores of women’s rights activists have been harassed, physically attacked and detained for no greater a crime than peaceful demonstrations and circulating petitions calling for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices. University students across the country have faced expulsion, arrest, and imprisonment for peacefully protesting the erosion of the administrative and academic independence of their universities.

It is in this context that the months-long harassment, extra judicial arrest and incarceration of Dr. Esfandiari—which was admitted belatedly by the Iranian Government on May 13, 2007 (New York Times, May 14, 2007)—exemplify the relentless campaign by the leaders of the Islamic Republic against the most basic principles of human rights. We find Dr. Esfandiari’s case particularly disturbing because it is tinged with invidious anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiratorial worldviews. The egregious charges leveled against her by the semi-official daily Kayhan, make Dr. Esfandiari the latest victim in the Iranian government’s repeated and escalating attempts to intimidate and silence human rights activists and promoters of civil society, as well as those who advocate the path of dialogue and moderation in Iran’s foreign policy. In her capacity as the director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, Dr. Esfandiari has been a staunch advocate of peaceful dialogue between Tehran and Washington in resolving their disputes.

We believe that, despite certain internal disagreements among members of its ruling elite, the Islamic Republic of Iran—as any other member of the United Nations—should be held fully accountable for its actions. Only through a clear and united stand against the many breaches of human rights and civil liberties in Iran can one hope to encourage those elements within the Islamic Republic who recognize the importance of human rights for Iran’s standing within the international community.

We call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn the arbitrary detention of Dr. Esfandiari, to call for her immediate and unconditional release, and to urge the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect, guarantee and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties to which Iran has long been a signatory. ‘

List of Signatories of the Statement in Support of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari
(May 21, 2007)

Ervand Abrahamian, City University of New York
Janet Afary, Purdue University
Gholam Reza Afkhami, Foundation for Iranian Studies
Mahnaz Afkhami, Women’s Learning Partnership
Reza Afshari, Pace University
Shahrough Akhavi, University of South Carolina
Kazem Alamdari, California State University
Abbas Amanat, Yale University
Hooshang Amirahmadi, Rutgers University
Jahangir Amuzegar, Independent Scholar
Ahmad Ashraf, Columbia University
Muriel Atkin, George Washington University
Bahman Baktiari, University of Maine
Kathryn Babayan, University of Michigan
Ali Banuazizi, Boston College
Sohrab Behdad, Denison University
Nasser Behnegar, Boston College
Maziar Behrooz, San Francisco State University
Sheila Blair, Boston College and Virginia Commonwealth University
Jonathan Bloom, Boston College and Virginia Commonwealth University
Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University
Laurie A. Brand, University of Southern California
L. Carl Brown, Princeton University
Nathan Brown, George Washington University
Charles E. Butterworth, University of Maryland
Houchang-Esfandiar Chehabi, Boston University
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Shahram Chubin, Geneva Centre for Security Policy
Juan R. Cole, University of Michigan
Miriam Cooke, Duke University
Natalie Z. Davis, University of Toronto
Kamran Dadkhah, Northeastern University
John L. Esposito, Georgetown University
Farideh Farhi, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Ali Ferdowsi, Nortre Dame de Namur University
Willem Floor, Independent Scholar
Amir Hossein Gandjbakhche, National Institutes of Health
Mark Gasiorowski, Louisiana State University
M. R. Ghanoonparvar, The University of Texas at Austin
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, Harvard University
Sondra Hale, University of California, Los Angeles
Hormoz Hekmat, Editor, Iran-Nameh
Kashi Javaherian, Harvard University
Suad Joseph, University of California, Davis
Mehran Kamrava, California State University, Northridge
Mehrangiz Kar, Harvard University
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, University of Maryland
Farhad Kazemi, New York University
Nikki Keddie, University of California, Los Angeles
Laleh Khalili, SOAS, University of London
Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami, New York University
Dina Rizk Khoury, George Washington University
Azadeh Kian, University of Paris
Stephen N. Lambden, Ohio University
Zachary Lockman, New York University
Ali Akbar Mahdi, Ohio Wesleyan University
Lenore G. Martin, Emmanuel College and Harvard University
Rudi Matthee, University of Delaware
Ann Elizabeth Mayer, The Wharton School
Abbas Milani, Stanford University
Farzaneh Milani, University of Virginia
Ziba Mir-Hosseini, SOAS, University of London
Valentine Moghadam, Purdue University
Haideh Moghissi, York University
Azar Nafisi, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS
Rasool Nafisi, Strayer University
Vali Nasr, Naval Postgraduate School
Farhad Nomani, The American University of Paris
Augustus Richard Norton, Boston University
Saeed Paivandi, University of Paris (VI)
Misagh Parsa, Dartmouth College
Samantha Power, Harvard University
William B. Quandt, University of Virginia
Sholeh A. Quinn, Ohio University
Nasrin Rahimieh, University of California, Irvine
Ali Rahnema, The American University of Paris
Saeed Rahnema, York University
Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Elizabeth Rubin, The New York Times Magazine
Sharon Stanton Russell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Robert M. Russell, Tufts University
Ahmad Sadri, Lake Forest College
Mahmoud Sadri, Texas Woman’s University
Tagi Sagafi-nejad, Texas A & M International University
Ali Schirazi, The Free University of Berlin
May Seikaly, Wayne State University
Sussan Siavoshi, Trinity University
Stephen Spector, Stony Brook University
Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations
Kamran Talattof, University of Arizona
Richard Tapper, SOAS, University of London
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, University of Toronto
Majid Tehranian, Toda Institute for Global Peace
Mark Tessler, University of Michigan
Mary Ann Tetreault, Trinity University, San Antonio
Nathan Thrall, The Jerusalem Post
Chris Toensing, Editor, Middle East Report
Nayereh Tohidi, California State University, Northridge
A. L Udovitch, Princeton University
Farzin Vahdat, Vassar College
Lucette Valensi, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Stephen M. Walt, Harvard University
John Waterbury, American University of Beirut
Lawrence Weschler, New York University
Jenny White, Boston University
Judith S. Yaphe, George Washington University
Said Yousef, The University of Chicago
Hossein Ziai, University of California, Los Angeles
Marvin Zonis, The University of Chicago

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