While the Iranian government plays a complicated game of international roulette regarding its nuclear power and weapons capacity, its role in stabilizing (or de-stabilizing Iraq), and its work to stem the flow of drugs through the Middle East, one thing – sadly – has remained consistent: human rights abuses.
Less than three weeks before the much touted U.S-Iran meetings on May 28, Iranian security forces have abducted and imprisoned Haleh Esfandiari, the 67-year-old director of the Middle East Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Esfandiari, who has lived in the U.S since 1980 and traveled to Iran to visit her 93-year-old mother, has been held for a week at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
“Her arrest,” reported a London-based Iranian agency, “came amid increasing restrictions on Iranian rights groups, particularly women’s organizations, and other critics by the hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian authorities have stepped up their warnings that the U.S. aims to use internal critics to destabilize the Iranian government amid the mounting tensions between the two countries.” Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who has herself been imprisoned at Evin, has agreed to defend Esfandiari through Ebadi’s organization, the Human Rights Defenders Center.
“Gracefully she approached, in a dress of bright blue silk,” writes Iranian poet Simin Behbahani. “With an olive branch in her hand, and many tales of sorrows in her eyes. Running to her, I greeted her, and took her hand in mine: Pulses could still be felt in her veins; warm was still her body with life.” We pray for Haleh Esfandiari’s safety and the protection of her grace and dignity.
If Iran is going to make a place for itself – and its 70 million citizens, 60 percent of whom are under 30 – in the world, then it must reclaim and restore a vision of government and society that preferences human rights over state secrecy and diversity of opinion and thought over social control. Only then can human dignity be elevated and souls mature as God intended. +Sign the petition for Haleh Esfandiari’s release
Rose Marie Berger is an Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine.