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American Scholar Released from Iranian Jail

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American Scholar Released from Iranian Jail


American Scholar Released from Iranian Jail

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, an Iranian-American scholar was released from prison in Tehran after spending more than three months in detention. Haleh Esfandiari was visiting her 93-year-old mother in Tehran in December, when three masked men threatened to kill her and seized her passports. She was interrogated and put under virtual house arrest. Then, she was charged with espionage and endangering Iran's national security and sent to the notorious Evin Prison. Esfandiari runs the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Karim Sadjadpour is her friend and colleague. He follows Iranian issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Karim Sadjadpour, what have you been able to learn about your friend's physical and mental condition?

Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Researcher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Just by seeing her photograph, it seems that she's lost a lot of weight. She's physically weaker. And obviously, undergoing solitary confinement for 110 straight days is very mentally traumatic. So we're just hoping that she can get back to the U.S. as soon as possible.

BLOCK: As she left prison, she actually praised the prison staff. She said her interrogators were polite and respectful. What did you make of those statements?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, the Iranian government, increasingly, what they've been doing is when they release political prisoners, they release them on a heavy bail. So in fact, in Haleh's case, the deed to her mother's home was put on bail. So they have no real incentive to come out and speak negatively about the Iranian government or about their prison experience because there's a heavy financial cost for doing that. So I think she just wants to - she just wanted to get out of prison without incident, smile, say positive things and get back to her family in the United States as soon as possible.

BLOCK: And what do you hear about that? Will she be able to leave the country? And if so, when?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: I think that, eventually, she will be able to leave the country. What we saw last year in the case of another political prisoner, Ramin Jahanbegloo, was that they gave his passport after about two weeks after he was out of prison. So hopefully, in Haleh's case, it will be similar. I don't think the Iranian government has any incentive to hold on to her in Tehran indefinitely.

BLOCK: Why do you think she was released from prison in Tehran now?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, it's not quite clear. We do know that there is one law in the Iranian constitution, which states that after four months, political prisoners either have to be tried or they have to be released. And Haleh's case was nearing four months. Again, she was in solitary confinement about 110 days. And I think the Iranian authorities knew from the beginning that the charges against her were groundless. And that this was actually far more of a cause in terms of Iran's international reputation than any gains of continuing to hold on to her. So I think that they never planned to hold on to her for more than four months and officially try her.

BLOCK: And these charges were that she was fomenting some sort of soft revolution in Iran.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Exactly. I think the Iranian authorities have been saying for a while that they suspect that the United States government is intent on fomenting what they call a soft revolution or velvet revolution in Iran. And they've imprisoned and detained several Iranian Americans and dual nationals over the last couple of years. And it's not quite clear if this is going to continue or the worst is behind this.

BLOCK: Would you expect that those other Iranian Americans you mentioned, who were in detention, might also be released now?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, I think Kian Tajbakhsh, who is a consultant with the Open Society Institute, the Soros Institute, he was arrested a few days after Haleh and similar charges. So I expect that he will also be released in the next week or so. There's another woman who works for the U.S.-funded radio station, RadioFarda. And hopefully, she will also be released. And there's one other person, Ali Shakeri, but his case is much more unclear.

BLOCK: Okay. Karim Sadjadpour, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Karim Sadjadpour follows Iranian issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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