Middle East studies in the News
Iran Releases Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian Professor Held Since June
by Thomas Erdbrink
A Canadian-Iranian professor who was arrested by Iranian intelligence officers in June was released on Monday, the government news agency IRNA reported.
Professor Hoodfar conducts research into the role of women in the Middle East. After she was arrested in June, the state broadcaster IRIB described her as "a feminist" who had been cooperating with a Britain-based organization called Women Living Under Islamic Law. The charges leveled against Professor Hoodfar have never been made public.
In a brief statement on Monday, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, said that Professor Hoodfar, "who had been arrested under certain charges in Iran, has been released on humanitarian grounds, including an illness." Mr. Ghasemi said she was returning to Canada by way of Oman.
In a separate statement, Mr. Ghasemi said that the Canadian and Iranian foreign ministers held talks last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.
"Hundreds of thousands of Iranian intellectuals and scholars exist in Canada; it is important to have a consular section in Canada," Mr. Ghasemi said. "Given the status of Iran and its strong influence in the region, it will be important for Canada to have their own embassy in Iran as well."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada expressed relief at Professor Hoodfar's release. In a statement on Monday, Mr. Trudeau said that the Canadian government had been working "at the highest levels" to free her since she was detained. Some of that work had to be done through intermediaries, he said, because Canada has no diplomatic representation of its own in Iran; he thanked Oman, Italy and Switzerland in particular for their help.
"I would also like to recognize the cooperation of those Iranian authorities who facilitated her release and repatriation," Mr. Trudeau said in the statement. "They understand that cases like these impede more productive relations."
Several dual citizens who have been arrested in Iran since the summer of 2015, mostly by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. At least three people with dual American and Iranian citizenship are in custody: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, and a person whose name has been withheld in news reports at the request of the person's family, out of fear that mentioning the name might jeopardize a potential release.
Other dual citizens being held include five British-Iranians and one Lebanese-Iranian, and experts say there may be more. Earlier this month, one of the British-Iranian detainees — Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, an employee of the Thompson-Reuters organization — was convicted in a secret trial and sentenced to five years in prison.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told NPR that he suspects that Iran is holding his wife and other dual nationals as a way of gaining leverage in international negotiations. "I think she's a bargaining chip," Mr. Ratcliffe said. "There's been a foreigner taken there every month since March. She was one of them."
It was unusual that Professor Hoodfar's release was announced by the Foreign Ministry. Iran views dual citizens strictly as Iranians, and their cases as matters for the judiciary, not the Foreign Ministry. The Iranian judiciary, which is firmly controlled by hard-liners, has not commented on the release of Professor Hoodfar; neither have the Revolutionary Guards.
Vrinda Narain, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal who worked to help free Professor Hoodfar, said her release on humanitarian grounds would allow Ottawa and Tehran to build closer economic ties. "It's a way for both sides to save face," she said.
Professor Hoodfar is the second Canadian citizen to be released this month by a foreign government. China deported Kevin Garratt, a missionary who had been held on espionage charges for more than two years.
Mr. Trudeau's Liberal government has long championed closer engagement with nondemocratic nations as part of its foreign policy. The safe return of Professor Hoodfar is likely to validate such a strategy, coming more than a decade after the death of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer who was killed in the same prison where Professor Hoodfar was held.
"This is something the Liberal government can count as hugely positive," Professor Narain said.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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