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Esha Momeni Released on Bail

Tuesday 28 October 2008


For Esha: November 10, 2008:
Today, at 5 pm in Tehran, Esha Momeni was released from prison on bail
(a deed to her family’s house). According to the deputy general prosecutor of Tehran, Hasan Hadad,the charge against Esha is "propaganda against the state". Esha Momeni, a graduate student at California State University Northridge, and a volunteer in the One Million Signatures Campaign had been kept in solitary confinement since October 15.

Change for Equality, November 8, 2008

Interview with Shirin Ebadi

Dr. Shirin Ebadi: "The Entire Process of Esha Momeni’s Arrest Has Been Illegal"

Pressure on women’s rights activists has intensified. Esha Momeni was arrested on October 15th while driving on the Modarres Highway and was transferred to Evin Prison. To date, no clear and specific explanation has been provided. On October 19th, security officers carrying investigation and arrest warrants entered the home of Parastoo Allahyai and searched her home. On October 26th, Susan Tahmassebi was not allowed to leave the country and her passport was confiscated. Last week, the final decisions on charges against Zeynab Payghambarzadeh and Rezvan Moghaddam, two activists of the One Million Signatures Campaign, were announced. Zohreh Assadpour, one of the Campaign volunteers in Rasht, was rejected from entering Azad University… And these kinds of events continue… It is interesting to note that contrary to the inappropriate actions of the security agents, the women’s rights activists, volunteers, and their families are urged to remain silent and to refrain from publicizing the news. We conducted an interview with Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a member of the Human Rights Defenders Foundation.

Q: In recent days we have seen how repression of women’s rights activists has been stepped up, and especially that the pressure is rising on the One Million Signatures Campaign; this new wave of attacks on women’s rights activists that began with Esha Momeni’s arrest continues. Many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, published statements concerning this issue. What is your analysis of the situation? And in general, does talking about people who are arrested make things worse for them?

Dr. Ebadi: I have always said that in our interaction with any government, we are limited only through the laws. If things are carried out lawfully, why shouldn’t we talk about them? If [the officials] did not follow the law and they have done things illegally, and they are worried about being exposed, the question is why has the law been ignored. I do not accept, under any circumstance, that when a person gets arrested, we should not talk about the manner of the arrest and the procedure that has followed the arrest because we wrongly assume that we are worsening the prisoner’s situation. When dealing with prison and court officials, we are limited only by the law. The law does not forbid a family or an attorney from talking about the arrestee. So if sensitivity exists concerning talking and interviewing about an arrest, we must say this sensitivity is misplaced, and if it is objected that our interview can be misused by the enemy, then I have to repeat that we are limited only by the law. If the law is respected and followed, the enemy can not do anything. If the government breaks the law, the question we should put to them is, "why did you carry out an illegal act?". My question is: how come when they arrest a thief and burglar every single newspaper covers the details of this arrest and the court procedure, and they are proud of that? They are right perhaps to be proud, they have arrested a criminal and with her/his arrest society is safer. But what is the message when a person is arrested and the officials advise the media not to address the issue? Those who give such advice must answer this question.

Q: Do you believe interviewing women’s rights activists, in their homes and with their permission, and recording some of those interviews with a video camera, is a crime?

Dr. Ebadi: Basically the first step is that this arrest [Esha’s arrest] was an illegal arrest and the obtainment of the videotapes and other materials was against the criminal investigation regulations, therefore using these tapes as evidence of crime does not have any legal basis.

As for Esha Momeni’s case, I have to tell you that she is one of the clients of our firm, the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, and Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is her instructed attorney. He has constantly made requests to the officials that he be allowed to visit his client, but he has been denied. They haven’t even let him look at her case files. All of these procedures are illegal. The minute a person is in custody s/he should be allowed to have contact with her/his attorney.

Q: What is worrying here is that the authorities seem to want to radicalize the women’s rights movement. And the tolerance that women’s rights activists have shown towards the state did not lead to a reciprocal tolerance towards the women’s rights activists, and confrontations against them have become more violent. What do you think women’s rights activists should do about these confrontations?

Dr. Ebadi: As you know very well, the One Million Signatures Campaign is the most peaceful way of criticizing the discriminatory laws against women. No-one can use these laws to control a society in which the number of educated women is greater than that of men. It is natural that society demands changes to these discriminatory laws and opposes them. Fortunately the women’s rights activists in this campaign have based their efforts on rationality and they always use peaceful methods to communicate with the authorities. But the Islamic Revolutionary Courts have little tolerance and as we see the women’s rights activists are being accused of treason against their country and acting against national security. I have always given this example: the United States won’t attack Iran because a woman does not want her husband to take a second wife, or because a woman is asking to have the same legal rights as her brothers. What kind of logic is behind their arguments? It is unfortunate that women’s rightful demands for change for equality are not tolerated by the courts and other judicial sources. I hope the authorities come to realize that with more tolerance matters will improve.

Q: Sussan Tahmasebi was banned from leaving the country and her passport has been taken away from her. Her home has also been searched and many of her personal files taken away. She has been interrogated twice since then. The house of Parastou Allah-Yari, another women’s rights activist, was also searched in this manner. These arrests, interrogations and prohibitions from leaving the country happen while they ask the media not to publish any news about these cases. They do many illegal and controversial things and yet they expect the atmosphere to remain quiet and calm. What is your view of this contradiction?

Dr. Ebadi: We do not have "prohibition from leaving or entering the country" as a punishment in Iranian law. When they call a person for interrogation and there is a case against her/him, she can post bail in the form of money, or another person can sign to release the accused. And as long as the person is back in time for her/his court date, he or she is free even to leave the country. In the case where she does not return, the bail will go to the government. So legally no-one can be banned from leaving the county as a punishment, unless they add this in the court. When an official engages in an illegal act, it is inevitable that this should be reflected in society.

Those who are unhappy with the current law, naturally object to it, and objections and criticism do not happen inside one’s home, they happen in seminars and talks and in the media. So if officials don’t want something to be said, they should address the issue in a legal manner. What has happened to Ms. Tahmasebi does not have any legal basis.

Q: This problem, the forbidding of women’s rights activists and of other civil, social and political activists from leaving the country, has arisen time and time again. What do you see as the reason behind this?

Dr. Ebadi: Unfortunately censorship has existed in Iran even before the Islamic Revolution, under the Shah’s regime. Permission is required from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance for every book that is published. And we know that some books never receive such permission. Moreover, this censorship is so widespread with respect to the legal system that it is illegal to criticise Iran’s constitution in magazines and newspapers. This is really interesting that one cannot talk about one’s country’s constitution. In reality, unfortunately the limits are increasing every day. One of the examples of the increase in censorship is the filtering of women’s rights websites. But since women who want equality are persistent, they have begun to pursue their demands even in the context of small family gatherings. These family gatherings are not safe from the illegal methods used by officials. For example, Ms. Khadijeh Moghadam and her husband were illegally arrested because of a gathering in their home. On the other hand, Iranian women’s rights activists participate in international conferences outside Iran and they voice their struggles towards equality. In these international human rights conferences, of course they don’t say anything different from what they say in Iran. But since the media inside Iran cannot reflect their demands and activities, they get better coverage outside Iran and people get to know about them and their activities. So banning equal rights activists from leaving Iran is one form of censorship, so the activists cannot reflect and share their views. The same thing happened with my trip to Malaysia. I was invited a year ago to give a talk in an international seminar in an academic setting. I accepted the invitation and I had scheduled my trip. Just before I left for the seminar I received a letter that informed me that I cannot give a talk, but that I can go and participate as an audience member. They had canceled my talk and the letter from the foreign ministry of Malaysia to the organizers was attached to this. In this letter it was said that "Iran’s government sees Ms. Ebadi as an opposition figure; she criticizes Iran in a westernized manner, and her speech may therefore damage the relationship between Iran and Malaysia. We strongly advise you to cancel her talk." This letter was from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and I received it from the organizers of the seminar. Of course many human rights NGOs in Malaysia and South-East Asia protested against this decision and some withdrew from the conference. As a result the Foreign Ministry of Malaysia changed their position and denied ever writing this letter. Of course I did not think it right to go there anyway given the circumstances. All this shows that a great deal of censorship takes place. And the bottom line is that censorship limits freedom of speech.

Esha Momeni has not been Involved in Any Illegal Activity

Change for Equality November 5, 2008

Interview with Nasrin Sotoodeh; Conducted by Elnaz Ansari; Translated by: Leila

The Arrest of Esha Momeni, a volunteer of the One Million Signatures Campaign, is the latest reaction of security agents in regards to women’s movement. Within the two years of the commencement of the One Million Signatures Campaign, roughly 50 volunteers and activists involved in this Campaign have been arrested. In none of these cases, the assigned judges could identify the request for “Change for Equality” as an illegal movement; however Esha Momeni was arrested for this reason.

She was arrested while driving. Her family is under a lot of pressure not to talk with the media. Nasrin Sotoodeh, well known attorney of law, in her conversation with “Change of Equality” mentioned that the arrest of Esha Momeni is an illegal reaction and she warned the officials regarding the illegality of their actions.

Nasrin Sotoodeh stated: “The major issue with this arrest is the disregard for the basic principles of an arrest which requires the accuser to deliver the summon to the accused, Esha in this case, and the fact that under cover intelligence agents disguised as traffic agents stopped her car and arrested her. This ambiguous action is one of the main civil right violations that applies to Esha Momeni’s case.”

Sotoodeh described dangers of this kind of actions and said: “When we face these types of actions more often, it means we are in tremendous danger due to obstinate agents who do not follow the rules and regulations and their activities pose a threat to civilians.”

The above mentioned lawyer stated that Esha Momeni`s activities of recording and interviewing with campaign activists are not illegal and she further noted: “Ms Momeni was doing her research for an academic project which does not violate any laws, and these types of activities if it is not in the streets or public places does not require any formal permit. As long as the films are kept in a personal archive, they are considered personal properties which you can have in any home and no one is allowed to confiscate them.”

Sotoodeh also commented on the discriminatory laws against woman in regards to the situation of the members of the campaign who were interviewed by Esha, and said: “Under the laws of any land, criticizing the law is not illegal in any part of the world including Iran. In regards to the women’s rights, university professors, journalists, lawyers, and civilians have an aversion to these laws, even some judges identify these laws as injustice. If the criticizing of the law were to be illegal, thousands of people should be arrested”.

After 12 days of Esha’s arrest, there is no information available regarding her condition in the 209 section of the Evin prison and what are the charges against her.
She is one the One Million Signatures Campaign volunteers and has held a few photo exhibitions focusing on women. Esha Momeni interviewed with few of the campaign members in Iran in order to make a short film about the strength of the women rights’ activists in Iran for her master thesis.

Change for Equality: October 30, 2008:

Interview with Esha Momeni’s Father; Esha Momeni’s Dad, “I don’t know how the officials answer their pangs of conscience?”

Interview conducted by: Elnaz Ansari

Translated by: Tara

Esha Momeni, one of the members of the One Million Signatures Campaign in California was arrested on one of Tehran’s highways while driving on October 15th, and has been kept in Evin Prison to this date. Although she called her family a day after her arrest, she has not contacted anyone outside the prison after that call. Esha’s family has gone to the Revolutionary Court a couple of times since their daughter’s arrest; however, they have not had the chance to either see Esha or know about her charges. Gholamreza Momeni, Esha’s father, is a 60-year-old civil engineer, who returned to Iran from the United States, after the 1979 revolution and has dedicated thirty years of his life to road construction in the poorest parts of Iran.
Here is his interview with “Change for Equality”:

- Mr. Momeni, What is the latest news you have from Esha’s status?

From what we know, she is still in section 209 of Evin Prison. She hasn’t called us since the first call she made on the day after her arrest. The court does not give us proper information, and Mr. Dadkhah hasn’t been able to see her yet, and hasn’t read the file yet.

- According to our information, they came to your house from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. What was their reason for coming to your house again?

Yes, yesterday, Tuesday (October, 21st), they came to our house from Evin to get some of the films they had not taken on their first search of the house. Later, they went to one of Esha’s friends and took some of the films she had. They were just looking for the films and didn’t tell us anything about Esha.

- Have you ever seen these films or do you know what they were about?

These films were collections of the interviews my daughter had carried out with the social activists. I saw these films and enjoyed them. The films demonstrated how much the women in our society have improved and how well-informed they are. These films could have a great impact outside Iran. Esha made these films for school purposes. I myself studied in the United States. These films were going to be shown just in the academic context of the university. Some university professors do not have a proper understanding about Iran and the status of women in this country. Esha was very sensitive about this topic. If she had decided to make a film of the people in the streets, they would have told that she was trying to betray the government by showing the misery and poverty. But what influence will showing the women’s activists have outside Iran except demonstrating the progress of Iran?

- All the interviews Esha had were with the women activists. What is
your opinion about the One Million Signatures Campaign?

I completely agree with this project. Your requests are not in contrast with the religion and the safety of the country. I, as a father, agree with your path, and I am proud that my daughter is a member of this campaign. I tell my other daughters and any other women I meet to become a member of this campaign. I am sure if the purposes and requests of the campaign are told properly even to the highest authority, he will not disagree with them, just as a number of clerics do not recognize these requests as opposed to religion and agree with change in some laws. I, also like Esha and like all of you, am a member of this campaign.

- Before this interview, you pointed out that you are a U.S citizen, and
Esha as well as one of your other daughters was born in America. Were you active in America, in the activities before the revolution?

I was one of the people who were fighting against the Shah’s regime. I was among the students who were demonstrating in front of the White House when the Shah met Carter. When Imam Khomeini went to Iran from exile, I returned to Iran. Since then, I have been constructing roads in the worst parts of Iran. I was in Bushehr for twelve years, while most of those years were at the time of the war (between Iran and Iraq), four years in Hormozgan, some years in the western parts of the country…When my family returned from the United States, Esha studied in Barazjan, in a school which did not even have any chairs. And I paid for the school chairs myself. I am not trying to say that I am a devoted person; however, our choice was based on our love for Iran. But, now when I see the same girl who came from her comfortable life in the United States to Iran, and got her high school diploma, and not for a moment did her feeling for Iran and her people diminish, I feel pain in my heart.

- Did you become familiar with women’s rights through Esha or is this your own feeling, arising from your love for Iran and your activities before the revolution?

I believe that development is not just in construction, industry, and economy. Development should be simultaneous. We cannot claim that we want to be the top country in the Middle East in twenty years, but our women who are 60% of the educated population live in this inhuman situation because of the unfair laws. Even if in 20 years, we achieve our goals and become a developed country economically, can we show our progress to the world while we suffer from all these social problems including women’s problems? Will our country be called a developed country at all? For all these reasons, Iranian officials must reconsider the laws related to women, and I am sure that finally, they will accept this change.

On the other hand, women’s problems are not just related to women. All of us see women around us who are under pressure because of the unfair laws. One of the reasons that Esha is interested in the topic of women is her personal experience in life. My daughter suffered for years because of these laws, which do not give the women the right to divorce. All of us have seen women who live with unwell and unqualified men, who are supported by unfair laws.

- To this date, more than 50 of the members of the campaign have been arrested and imprisoned, accused of the same activities as your daughter. What do you think the logic behind this reaction toward Esha and others is?

From what I have seen in the films and as I know Esha’s friends from the Campaign, I have not heard any illogical speech. These words and my daughter’s activities had nothing to do with removal of the government. If I felt that my daughter was doing something against the country’s safety or laws, I would be the first one to prevent her from what she was doing. The authorities know better. They have daughters, too. They have met women who have made efforts for years to get divorce or their children’s custody. I don’t really know why the authorities disagree with this movement. Why should a movement which is in favor of all women, and even men, cost this much?

- Yesterday, Mr. Dadkhah claimed that he accepted Esha’s file as her lawyer. What is his legal opinion?

Mr. Dadkhah, as he said in the interview he gave to your website, believes that Esha did not do anything wrong or illegal, and the court cannot claim that she is guilty. He hasn’t read her file yet, and he is apparently not able to do so until the investigations are over. However, from what he knows about the campaign and what we told him about Esha’s activities, he believes that Esha is not guilty.

- Were your visits to the court helpful?

No, I went to the court a day after Esha’s arrest with a valid writ, and requested my daughter’s freedom. Watch the films, and if you find anything illegal, I will bring my daughter to you to answer. They told me to return to my house, and whenever it is necessary we’ll summon you. And do not come to the court until we tell you to. This method of treating a worried family and this way of arresting without documents or without lawyer as well as no permission to make calls or visiting are like the methods that existed in the Middle Ages.

- Esha told her friends before her arrest that she had to be hospitalized for kidney surgery. Has she already been cured or was she arrested before then?

Esha completed her paperwork and was supposed to have the surgery in Atieh Hospital on Tuesday. However, she was arrested two days before her appointment. We are very worried about her health condition because she usually suffers from pain in her kidney as well as stomach problems. Now, under the mental pressure of the prison, it is even worse. Her mother is in a very poor psychological condition, and very worried for Esha. I know from what I read in the campaign news that this is not the first time that these types of pressure have happened, but I don’t understand why the authorities who have seen these sufferings of the worried families are doing this and why don’t they show some kindness and consideration. Why do they deprive the families of their primary rights?

I see all these and feel sorry for the young people of my country. Esha will be released one day, either after a month, a year, or two years. I just don’t know how they answer to themselves and their pangs of conscience for what they did. What will be their answer for how much suffering they caused me and my family? And I know there are other families who felt the same that we feel.

President of CSUN Issues Statement in Support of Esha Momeni

Change for Equality: October 23, 2008: The President of California State University has issued a Statement about the Arrest of Esha Momeni, a graduate student at CSUN Northridge and a member of the Campaign, who was arrested on October 15, 2008 while visiting family and conducting research for her thesis project, focused on women’s rights activists. The statement appears below:
I am deeply concerned that one of our graduate students, Esha Momeni, has been arrested and detained by Iranian authorities while conducting research as part of her Master’s degree requirements in Mass Communications at California State University, Northridge. My understanding is that her thesis project focused on women’s issues in Iran.

Ms. Momeni is a U.S. citizen. She is a student invested in learning and understanding current conditions in the country of her family’s origin.

Anyone who values knowledge and the role of academic inquiry in shedding light on the human condition should be concerned. We are in support of the efforts of the U.S. government in their efforts to secure Ms. Momeni’s immediate release and are in the process of contacting the following individuals and organizations to obtain their assistance: Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Brad Sherman, the Department of State, and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee.

Jolene Koester, President

Change for Equality: October 21, 2008: Interviews with Esha Momeni’s Professors

The following are interviews conducted with Esha Momeni’s Professors about the nature of her research in Iran. The interviews were taken from the blog set up in support of Esha. Take a look at the blog For Esha.

Interview with David Blumen, Esha’s Visual Communications Professor

1- As Esha’s professor and adviser, How do you describe her? Would you please tell us what Esha’s project is focused on?

Esha is an exceptionally bright person, very creative and artistic. As a member of her thesis committee, I understood that she was mostly interested exploring issues related to women in Iran, with an emphasis on clearing up misconceptions the world might hold in this regard.

2- Are you surprised about her arrest? Do you see any reason why she should be in jail now?

Not just surprised, but shocked. I’m aware that such things happen in Iran, but I’m confident that they have nothing to fear from Esha’s research project. It is simply an academic exercise, not meant for publication outside of academic circles. I cannot image why she should be held in detention.

4- Does California State University, Northridge use the student’s projects for any other purposes other than for the purpose of completing a program of study?

Not at all. This is simply a student research project, a requirement toward earning her Master’s degree.

Interview with Dr. Melissa Wall, Chair of Esha’s Master’s Thesis Committee in Arts and Communication Department of CSUN

1- As Esha’s professor and adviser, How do you describe her? Would you please tell us what Esha’s project is focused on?

Esha is a wonderful young woman, very smart and very talented. I have learned a lot about Iranian culture from my discussions with her. She was concerned that Americans often misunderstand Iran and she wanted to help them see a fuller picture of her country. Her project is a video documentary about Iranian women.

2- Are you surprised about her arrest? Do you see any reason why she should be in jail now?

I am very surprised by her arrest. I am certain she was doing nothing wrong. I’m sure all my colleagues in world would be surprised to hear that a young communication and Art student has been arrested for no apparent reason.

4- Does California State University, Northridge use the student’s projects for any other purposes other than for the purpose of completing a program of study?

No, the university does not use student work. It is submitted to a three-person committee, which judges whether she should be awarded a master’s degree for the work. It’s the equivalent of taking an exam.

Thank you.

Esha Momeni, Member of the Campaign Arrested

Change for Equality: October 19, 2008: Esha Momeni, women’s rights advocate and a member of the Campaign from California was arrested on Wednesday October 15, 2008, while on a visit to Tehran. Momeni who is a photographer and graduate student was arrested in an unusual and illegal manner after being pulled over on Moddaress highway, by individuals who identified themselves as under cover traffic police on the pretense that she had unlawfully passed another vehicle while driving. Esha was arrested and taken to Section 209 of Evin Prison, managed by the Intelligence and Security Ministry.

Prior to her transfer to Evin, security officials searched her home and seized property, including her computer and films which were part of her thesis project. The security officials had an arrest warrant and court permission to search the home and seize property.

While Esha’s friends and colleagues were insistent about announcing the news of her arrest immediately, based on requests from her family this news was announced with delay. Security forces had promised Esha’s family that she would be released quickly if news of her arrest was not published.

Esha’s parents went to the Revolutionary Courts today, on the fifth day of her arrest, to follow up on the case of their daughter. Court officials told the Momeni family that they should not come to the courts again, and that their questions will not be answered until the investigation of Esha’s case comes to a close.

Esha Momeni is a graduate student at the School of Communications, Media and Arts at California State University, Northridge. Esha had come to Iran two months ago to visit with her family and to work on her Masters thesis project, focused on the Iranian women’s movement. To this end, she had conducted video interviews with members of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Tehran.

Women’s rights activists object to the unusual manner in which Esha was arrested, as well as the irresponsible treatment of her family members by security forces. Further they strongly object to the unjustified and unwarranted arrest of this women’s rights defender.

A weblog in support of Esha pressing for her release has been established, which includes interviews with her professors (copied below). The weblog as well as the site of the Campaign, Change for Equality, will continue to provide news on developments about Esha’s case. Take a look at the blog For Esha.

Read other news related to Esha’s arrest:

October 28: Iranian-American Student Detained In Iran

Interview with Esha’s Father conducted by Roozonline

 

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