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IRANIAN-U.S. ACADEMIC RELEASED ON BAIL

An Iranian-U.S. scholar jailed in Iran for more than three months was released on bail last week, following protests by activists and international human rights groups. But she still faces charges of endangering Iran's national security and cannot leave the country.

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East programme at the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was in Iran visiting her mother when she was prevented from leaving last December. She was interrogated repeatedly over her work before her eventual arrest in May. Her detention in Tehran's notorious prison had just surpassed the 100-day mark when she was released on 21 August for three billion Rials (US $320,000).

Although Amnesty International USA welcomed Esfandiari's release, "the conditions of her release remain suspect," Amnesty says. "Many questions are still unanswered, including whether the Iranian authorities will allow Dr. Esfandiari to leave the country and whether she was ill-treated in detention."

Last month, Iranian television broadcast a report in which Esfandiari apparently "confessed" that a network of foreign activists was plotting to overthrow the Iranian government in a "velvet revolution". But Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups claim the statement was coerced by the Iranian authorities.

Like Esfandiari, three other U.S.-Iranians have recently been arrested or prevented from leaving the country. They include Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant for the Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, founder of the Center for Citizens Peace Building at the University of California, Irvine. ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN, along with Amnesty, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, are calling for their unconditional release.

Thousands of activists have already taken action through the Free Haleh Esfandiari and Free Kian Tajbakhsh websites. Petitions 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 ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/iran-scholar-released.pdf
- Freedom House: http://tinyurl.com/34ymyf
- Amnesty: http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-irn/urgent_actions
- Human Rights Watch on televised confessions: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/07/18/iran16414.htm
- "IFEX Communiqué" on U.S.-Iranian dual nationals: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83925
- Wilson Center on Esfandiari: http://tinyurl.com/2azazk
(28 August 2007)

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