American Student Is Arrested in Iran While Working on Master's Thesis

October 23, 2008

An American graduate student doing research on her master’s thesis in Iran has been arrested and is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she is at risk of torture and other ill treatment, Amnesty International reported.

The student, Esha Momeni, who is enrolled in the School of Communications, Media, and Arts at California State University at Northridge, traveled to Iran two months ago to visit her family and to do research on her thesis project, a video documentary of the Iranian women’s movement.

On October 15, Ms. Momeni was stopped while driving in Tehran by people identifying themselves as undercover traffic-police officers. They said they were arresting her on suspicion of a traffic offense, and then took her to her parents’ home, which they searched. They seized her laptop and video footage of the interviews she had conducted. She was taken to the section of Evin Prison run by the Ministry of Intelligence.

Ms. Momeni, who was born in Los Angeles, has not been charged with any offense. Her family members were told she would be released quickly if they did not make her arrest public. But when they were not allowed to visit her and were told that no details of her case would be revealed until an investigation was completed, they went public.

Ms. Momeni is a member of the California branch of the Campaign for Equality, a women’s-rights group aimed at ending discrimination against women in Iranian law. Amnesty International reported that dozens of supporters and members of the group had been arrested for their activities.

Iranian authorities have cracked down on domestic academic dissenters in recent years and taken aim at several academics with international ties as well. Haleh Esfandiari was the most prominent of three Iranian-American scholars imprisoned last year. Mehdi Zakerian, a human-rights scholar who was to teach this term at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, was arrested in August. He remains in custody. —Andrew Mills