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DUAL CITIZEN "SPIES" DETAINED, PREVENTED FROM LEAVING COUNTRY

Iran charged three U.S.-Iranian citizens with espionage last week, amid recent accusations by Iranian authorities that the U.S. is using dissidents to try to overthrow the country's Islamic government.

They are the latest victims of a wider crackdown on dual nationals and journalists, say Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights, who are campaigning for an end to their persecution.

The accused are Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist at the New School in New York who has worked as a consultant for the Open Society Institute and the World Bank; Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Parnaz Azima, journalist for Radio Farda, the Persian-language service run jointly by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America. The government has accused them and their organisations of endangering national security by "engaging in propaganda and espionage for foreigners," report the human rights groups.

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are currently in detention at Evin prison. Esfandiari had been in Iran visiting her 93-year-old mother when she was prevented from leaving in December - masked gunmen ambushed her taxi and stole her luggage, including her passport. She was interrogated repeatedly before her eventual arrest on 8 May. Tajbakhsh was reportedly arrested three days later. Both have been held incommunicado and have been denied access to their lawyers and family.

Azima has been prohibited from leaving Iran since her passport was seized in January. On 21 May, following a large bail payment, the authorities refused to return her passport, citing the interest in her case by the Information Ministry.

A French-Iranian journalism student, Mehrnoushe Solouki, was also barred from leaving Iran. Solouki was arrested in February while making a documentary film about Iran-Iraq relations. She was released in March on bail but her passport was taken away. Both Azima and Solouki have been interrogated several times by intelligence agents since their release, RSF says.

Ali Shakeri, a U.S.-Iranian peace activist from California, is also believed to be in detention since he went missing on 8 May on his way from Iran to Europe.

Petitions to free Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh can be found at:
- Free Haleh Campaign: http://www.freehaleh.org/category/petition/
- Free Kian Campaign: http://www.freekian.org/petition/
Visit these links:
- Joint statement by human rights groups: http://tinyurl.com/238peu
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/227j2z
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22357
(5 June 2007)

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