AFP: Iran on Tuesday released on bail US-Iranian academic Haleh Esfandiari, whose detention for the past three months on security charges further inflamed tensions with arch enemy the United States. by Stuart Williams and Hiedeh Farmani
TEHRAN, Aug 21, 2007 (AFP) – Iran on Tuesday released on bail US-Iranian academic Haleh Esfandiari, whose detention for the past three months on security charges further inflamed tensions with arch enemy the United States.
“I can confirm that she was released on a bail of three billion rials (320,000 dollars),” her lawyer Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize-winning rights activist, told AFP.
The move was welcomed as “encouraging news” by the White House, which had repeatedly called for the release of Esfandiari and three other US-Iranians held by Tehran.
Iranian judiciary officials declined to comment on the case of Kian Tajbakhsh, a US-Iranian urban planning expert who has also been held in Tehran’s Evin prison on the same charges as Esfandiari since May.
However the ISNA news agency cited a source in the Tehran prosecution office as saying: “Possibly his (Tajbakhsh’s) situation will change in the next few days.”
The arrests had increased tensions between Tehran and Washington at a time of growing concerns about the Iranian nuclear drive, which the United States claims is aimed at making an atomic weapon.
“This is encouraging news and the United States welcomes this,” US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in reaction to Esfandiari’s release.
Tehran’s deputy prosecutor Hassan Hadad emphasised that the investigation into Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh was not over, although no indictment had been issued.
“The preliminary investigation has not finished yet and the inspector is carrying out more work,” he told the Mehr news agency.
Esfandiari, 67, is a prominent academic who heads the Middle East programme at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Both Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh had been accused by the authorities of using their academic contacts to promote an alleged US government drive to topple Iran’s Islamic authorities with a “soft revolution”.
Esfandiari had returned to Iran last year to visit her sick 93-year-old mother.
According to the Wilson Center, she was travelling in a taxi on December 30 to the airport for the flight homewards when three masked men with knives stopped the car and took her handbag and passports.
She was not detained at that time, but over the next few months was interrogated on several occasions. She was then arrested and taken to Tehran’s Evin prison on May 7.
Ebadi had complained frequently that she had never been allowed to meet her client, who she said was being held in solitary confinement and was not permitted visits.
In a move that sparked international controversy, Iran last month broadcast a documentary showing Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh apparently implicating themselves in the alleged US efforts to topple Iran’s clerical rulers.
Esfandiari said in the programme she had been involved in work whose ultimate aim was to damage Iran’s Islamic authorities, describing the interview as an “opportunity” to set the record straight.
Another US-Iranian, Ali Shakeri, a California-based businessman who is also a board member of a private conflict-resolution group, is also believed to have been detained since May but on different charges.
Judiciary officials also made no mention of an fourth US-Iranian, Parnaz Azima, a broadcaster with Radio Free Europe’s Prague-based Persian language arm Radio Farda, who faces similar security-related charges.
Azima is not being detained but her passport has been confiscated and she is unable to leave Iran.
Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, had repeatedly rejected US calls for their release, bluntly telling Washington that their detention is none of its business.
Mystery, meanwhile, still surrounds the fate of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, who Washington says went missing in March while visiting Iran’s southern island of Kish.
Iran insists there is no record of Levinson ever entering the country and it has no information about him to pass on to Washington. It has also emphatically denied he has been arrested.