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Amnesty International calls on Iran to release Canadian Concordia professor

Saturday 11 June 2016, by siawi3


Homa Hoodfar, 65, travelled to Iran in early February after the death of her husband and after retiring from Concordia. She was also doing research on an election that saw 17 women elected as lawmakers.

The family of Concordia University professor Homa Hoodfar says Iranian authorities have not allowed them to provide her with medication for a neurological illness and that she suffered a stroke last year. (Amanda Ghahremani / AP)

By Jon GambrellAssociated Press

Thu., June 9, 2016

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Amnesty International is calling on Iran to release a Montreal-based university professor who has been in prison since Monday.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, described Homa Hoodfar as a prisoner of conscience.

“The arrest of respected and accomplished scholar, Dr. Homa Hoodfar, is the latest attempt by the Iranian authorities at targeting individuals, including academics, for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association,” Neve said in a statement Thursday.

“It is deeply troubling that someone whose research focuses on addressing women’s inequality can find herself arbitrarily arrested and held, possibly in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer and her family.”

The detention of Hoodfar, who until recently taught anthropology and sociology at Montreal’s Concordia University, comes amid a widening targeting of Iranians with Western ties in the wake of the accord, and likely at the hands of hard-liners opposed to the deal.

Hoodfar, 65, travelled to Iran in early February to see family after the death of her husband and retiring from Concordia, her niece Amanda Ghahremani said. She was also doing research at the archive of Iranian parliament’s library as an election that month saw 17 women elected as lawmakers.

Two days before she was due to fly out of Tehran in March, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard raided Hoodfar’s home, seizing her belongings and questioning her, Ghahremani said. After several days of interrogation, she was formally arrested and released on bail, though she and her lawyer still don’t know what charges she faces, despite periodic questioning since, her niece said.

On Monday, the Revolutionary Guard summoned Hoodfar for questioning at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and since then she’s been held incommunicado, Ghahremani said. Her family decided to go public with her detention Wednesday by talking to Canadian media in Montreal.

“We’re very confused and baffled by what’s going on because those who know Homa either personally or through her academic work know she’s ... someone who’s incredibly even-handed and balanced,” Ghahremani told The Associated Press. “She’s not political. She’s not an activist. And if anything, she has worked to improve the lives of women in different contexts, including Iran.”

Calls to Iran’s judiciary rang unanswered on Thursday, the start of the country’s weekend. State-run media had no report on Hoodfar’s detention. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hoodfar has written articles on women in Muslim societies, including Iran.

Her plight has harrowing echoes of the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer who was killed in the same prison in 2003.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force charged with protecting the country’s Islamic government, has increasingly targeted those with Western ties since the deal.

Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour, an engineer who emigrated to Victoria B.C. in 2004, was awaiting citizenship when he made an urgent trip to visit his dying father in October 2008. In spite of lack of evidence, he was arrested on charges of managing a pornographic website at the instigation of western countries plotting to corrupt the morals of Iranians. He is still in prison.

Canada has not had an embassy in Iran since 2012, when its conservative-led government at the time cut diplomatic ties over the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear program and other issues. In the time since, world powers have reached a deal with Iran for it to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

On Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion acknowledged that not having an embassy complicated matters. Italy has protected Canada’s interests in Iran since 2012.

“It would be easier to have an embassy in Iran, but it’s not the case,” Dion said. “We will do everything we can (by) working with the like-minded countries that are in Iran.”

Amnesty International Canada has called on Iran to release Hoodfar, saying she is a prisoner of conscience.

Amnesty wants Ottawa to take all possible diplomatic measures to ensure her immediate release and safe return to Canada