It is a story that would, in other circumstances, have drawn understanding and awe as Esha Momeni left the Northridge campus of California State University to conduct fieldwork on women’s rights in Iran.
Unfortunately, as Esha endures her third week of imprisonment in the country’s notorious Evin prison, the tale becomes one of sadness, admiration, and frustration.
After returning to Iran two months ago to videotape interviews, Esha, 28, was stopped on the Modarres Highway, Tehran’s main north-south expressway, on 15 October after allegedly speeding.
Security officers then escorted her home, where they seized her computer before taking her away.
Soon after she called her father, weeping, and was subsequently arrested and placed in solitary confinement in Section 209 of Evin prison.
Prior to her arrest, she had been scheduled to head back to California on 20 October.
As yet, no formal charges have been lodged.
According to her lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, Esha was being denied access to legal counsel as a “temporary detainee,” a condition that could last two months, and has been allowed just one phone call to her family.
Contrastingly, an Iranian Judiciary spokes person stated that Esha is under investigation for “acting against national security” – a charge that a few other women’s rights activists have also received in recent years.
This year, Iran has arrested several women involved with the One-Million-Signature campaign, which was launched officially on August 27, 2006, and aims to collect one million signatures in support of a petition addressed to the Iranian Parliament requesting the revision and reform of laws which discriminate against women.
Utilizing a face-to-face education approach, the campaign strives to promote awareness about the laws, and activists, after going through a training course on the laws, become involved by collecting signatures from fellow citizens.
Born in the United States, Esha’s family relocated to Tehran in the early 1980s, where she later graduated from a Tehran college with a degree in graphics.
While in 2003 she married a man her father described as a “male chauvinist” with emotional problems, the end of the marriage and her move back to the States in 2005 brought a renewed interest in activism, specifically women’s rights issues, and she began participating in the One Million Signatures Campaign.
It was during the course of her master’s degree project that, against the advice of her academic advisers at Cal State Northridge, she returned to Iran.
Since her arrest, Esha has experienced the volatile nature of Tehran’s Revolutionary Courts firsthand, as a judge refused to accept the deed to the Momenis’ home as bail or allow Dadkhah to speak on her behalf.
Moreover, up until last week, Iran’s foreign ministry said it had not been informed of her situation by the judiciary.
The arrest comes shortly after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s insistence, during a visit to the United Nations, that Iranians were free to say what they wanted.
While Ahmedinejad postures unconvincingly on the issue of freedom of expression, Iran’s track record continues to leave much to be desired: in May 2007, US-Iranian academics Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, and California-based peace activist Ali Shakeri, were arrested and held for more than 100 days on suspicion of causing harm to national security.
The most irksome aspect of accounts such as these, is the notion that campaigning for women’s rights is somehow detrimental to national security.
That Iran has so many intelligent, vociferous, and brave women and men willing to fight for the most basic of rights for womankind is admirable and awe-inspiring; far from locking them in the darkest corners of Evin, they should be celebrated for their tenacity.
Which is why a plethora of petitions have flourished online, garnering upwards of 3,000 signatures.