Middle East studies in the News
Concordia Community Rallying to Secure Release of Professor Arrested in Iran [on Homa Hoodfar]
by Karen Seidman
Bring Homa home.
That is the urgent message from colleagues at Concordia University and around the world as pressure mounts to secure the release of Concordia University professor emerita Homa Hoodfar, 65, who has been detained in a notorious Iranian prison since last Monday.
A week after contact with Hoodfar was cut off, family, colleagues and friends are urging the Canadian government to use whatever means necessary to free the retired academic – who holds Canadian, Iranian and Irish citizenship – from Evin prison. Public pressure is also being exerted, with several petitions demanding to #FreeHomaNow, including one signed by 1,500 academics worldwide.
Her friends are haunted by the knowledge that the respected anthropologist and scholar has already endured gruelling conditions since she was first detained in March (although subsequently released on bail), including nine-hour interrogation sessions and being ordered to write essays on certain topics. Now they are worried she is sequestered in a prison known for torture, unable to take medication for a neurological illness (Myasthenia Gravis) and fear for her safety in a country with which Canada no longer has diplomatic ties.
After being called for another interrogation session last Monday, she was incarcerated in Tehran. The petition by academics says "her academic research seems to have been interpreted as a threat to national security on the basis of her comparative research on women's status, law, development and the family in different Muslim contexts."
It's a nightmare, said her niece, Amanda Ghahremani, who is studying international criminal law and describes this experience as a difficult merging of her professional and personal lives.
"My aunt is an academic who is innocent of whatever these charges may be," she said in an interview Monday. "She wasn't worried about going there because she hasn't done anything to warrant controversy within the Iranian government or the factions."
When Hoodfar's home in Iran was first invaded in March by the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and all her personal belongings confiscated – including her passport, computer and phone – Ghahremani said her aunt didn't want to draw media attention to it because she was convinced it was a misunderstanding. "She wanted to be respectful of Iranian judicial proceedings."
Everyone who knows Hoodfar is baffled by her arrest; she is no militant, they say, and her research into women's lives in the Middle East, South Asia and Canada offers nuanced portraits rather than political exposition.
No reason has been given for her arrest and no contact with her provided, even to her lawyer, since last Monday. Rachna Mishra, media relations director for Global Affairs Canada, said Monday the government is "actively engaged" in the case and considers it a priority.
"It's a very dicey situation when there are no diplomatic relations," said Vrinda Narain, an associate professor in McGill University's faculty of law and the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, who has been longtime friends with Hoodfar.
Such detentions, she said, are relatively common in Iran; she has spoken to other scholars who have been detained there and heard varying accounts of their experiences, and the length of time of their detention. But it concerns her that government officials are "constrained" by the fact Canada hasn't had diplomatic ties to Iran since 2012.
"This is the most frightening thing I can imagine happening to a colleague," said Kimberly Manning, an associate professor of political science at Concordia and principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, which is calling for Hoodfar's immediate release.
Concordia President Alan Shepard said in a statement that the Canadian government is working on the situation and that he understands and shares the concern expressed by her colleagues and friends. Media relations director Chris Mota said the university won't say much to avoid compromising negotiations. But Hoodfar, who retired last year, no longer has an office at Concordia.
As for the university's policy on travel outside of Quebec, it asks faculty or students to register with a travel registry prior to departure. But the onus is on the traveller to inform themselves about potential dangers and to check Global Affairs Canada about advisories.
Canada's current advisory on Iran is clear about the danger of visiting: A high degree of caution should be exercised "due to crime, demonstrations and the regional threat of terrorism," it says. It also notes there is no government office in the country and "the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is extremely limited."
By all accounts, Hoodfar was in Iran for a family visit and to conduct some research on women in public life. She has visited Iran regularly over the years; this last visit was in February and coincided with elections in Iran. But friends say she had really gone to heal, after the death of her husband last year, precisely because she loves the country so much.
Hoodfar's friend Margie Mendell, a professor at Concordia's school of community and public affairs, worries for her health. Hoodfar suffered a mild stroke last year, on top of other health concerns.
"Everyone is mystified with her arrest," said Mendell. "The work she does in no way justifies it."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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