Freed Scholar in Iran: Release Was 'Unexpected'

Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic, is free after spending more than 100 days in a Tehran prison. Esfandiari was first detained in December, while in Iran to visit her aging mother. Then she was jailed in May on national security charges.

Of her release, Esfandiari said, "It was unexpected. I would like to thank all those who helped get me back home."

Iranian officials have not said whether she may leave the country. In America, Esfandiari directs the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Robin Wright, a reporter with The Washington Post, speaks with Renee Montagne.

Iran Releases Scholar Accused of Conspiracy

Haleh Esfandiari in a program titled "In the Name of Democracy."

An image grab taken from footage broadcast July 18 by the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) shows Haleh Esfandiari in a program titled "In the Name of Democracy." AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images

After Her Release

In video from Iranian state televison, posted to YouTube, Haleh Esfandiari talks about her time in prison.

Esfandiari NPR Interview

In August 1997, author Haleh Esfandiari spoke with NPR about the role women played in electing Mohammad Khatami, then the new president of Iran. At that time, Khatami was starting his term and had named several women to his cabinet, but was facing an uphill battle to get them approved by the Iranian legislature.

Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, detained for nearly four months in a Tehran prison on charges of conspiring against the government, was freed on bail Tuesday, a judiciary official said, but was unclear if she would be allowed to leave the country.

Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, had been jailed largely incommunicado at Tehran's Evin prison. She was accused of acting against national security.

Mohammad Shadabi, an official at the Tehran prosecutor's office, told The Associated Press Esfandiari was freed on $333,000 bail, but he could not say whether she would be allowed to leave Iran. Esfandiari's husband said her mother used the deed to her Tehran apartment to post bail.

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, Esfandiari's colleague at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said her detention has been a long and trying ordeal.

"We want her to be permitted to return to the United States," Hamilton said, "to be reunited with her family."

Earlier this month, Iranian authorities said they have concluded an investigations into Esfandiari, and Kian Tajbakhsh, another detained Iranian-American also accused of conspiring against the country's security.

At the time, no decision had been made on whether they will be put on trial.

Esfandiari's troubles in Iran began when three masked men holding knives threatened to kill her on Dec. 30 as she was on her way to the Tehran airport after visiting her 93-year-old mother, the Wilson Center said. The assailants took her baggage, including her U.S. and Iranian passports, the center said.

For several weeks, Esfandiari was not detained, but was interrogated by authorities for up to eight hours a day, according to the center. Most of the questioning focused on the activities of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Iran confirmed in mid-May that it was detaining Esfandiari and charged her later that month. The only contact her family has had with her since her arrest has been short phone calls to her mother from prison.

The Evin prison is notorious for its harsh conditions for political prisoners. Esfandiari's husband and the Wilson Center have said she was not permitted to speak to lawyers.

Last month, Iranian public television broadcast video in which Esfandiari said a network of foreign activists was trying to destabilize Iran and bring about "essential" social change. The video also featured Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute.

Both the Wilson Center and the New York-based Open Society Institute have criticized the Iranian government for the broadcast and dismissed the statements as "coerced."

Two other Iranian-Americans also face security-related charges: Parnaz Azima, a journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the Center for Citizen

Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. Shakeri is in prison, while Azima is free but barred from leaving Iran.

Family members, colleagues and employers of all the detained have consistently denied the allegations.

Apart from Esfandiari's case, there was no news Tuesday on any developments in those of the other three Iranian-Americans.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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