New York Times: An Iranian-American academic jailed for more than 100 days on suspicion of promoting a velvet revolution in the Islamic Republic was released on hefty bail on Tuesday, looking tired and much thinner from her ordeal but pronouncing herself well. The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI and NEIL MACFARQUHAR
Published: August 22, 2007
TEHRAN, Aug. 21 An Iranian-American academic jailed for more than 100 days on suspicion of promoting a velvet revolution in the Islamic Republic was released on hefty bail on Tuesday, looking tired and much thinner from her ordeal but pronouncing herself well.
The academic, Haleh Esfandiari, 67, is among four Iranian-Americans whose arrests have caused tension between Tehran and Washington, with two women now released on bail and two men still jailed.
It remained murky whether Ms. Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, would be allowed to leave Iran.
I feel happy, Ms. Esfandiari told a reporter from Irans state-run television as she emerged from Evin prison, where she has been held in solitary confinement since May 8. She was wearing a blue head scarf, veiling her hair as required by Iranian law. Allow me to leave now and I will be even happier!
Her release came two weeks after Irans supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a rare occurrence, responded to a June 29 letter appealing for her freedom, according to Lee H. Hamilton, the director of the Wilson center.
Mr. Hamilton the former congressman who helped lead the Iraq Study Group, which earlier this year recommended a dialogue with Iran said Tuesday that his letter did not refer to the tensions between Iran and the United States, and instead framed the request in humanitarian and religious terms.
The Bush administration, which has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and supplying weapons used to attack American troops in Iraq, has made no secret of its desire to see the mullahs ruling the Islamic Republic replaced. In response, the Iranian government has treated anyone with ties to the West, particularly academics, with suspicion.
Mr. Hamilton said Ayatollah Khameneis response to his appeal, two paragraphs that he was summoned to the Iranian Embassy to receive, referred to improving Americas image in the region. It said the ayatollah had taken unspecified steps to resolve the issue, Mr. Hamilton said. Given that the various intelligence agencies and the judiciary all report to Mr. Khamenei, his intervention would have proved instrumental.
Ms. Esfandiaris mother had to post bail worth around $324,000, according to Iranian news reports. Ms. Esfandiaris husband, Shaul Bakhash, said her mother had put up her apartment as collateral. She lives on the pension of her late husband, a retired civil servant, Mr. Bakhash said, and her apartment is all she owns. The Web site Baztab, run by the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, called the sum the average price of an apartment in Tehran.
Reached by telephone, Ms. Esfandiaris mother said only that her daughter was resting and would not elaborate.
Bail in prominent cases though often quite high in Iranian terms has become more common, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. An Iranian-Canadian academic released on significant bail last year was allowed to leave the country, for example, but has been closemouthed about his imprisonment because the deeds to his home and the home of his mother are being held as collateral.
Sometimes it is simply because keeping them in prison has become too politically expensive, said Abbas Milani, the director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University. Sometimes they are finished with a person but dont want to leave them completely out of their control.
Mr. Milani said that in jailing Ms. Esfandiari and the others, the Iranian regime had succeeded in intimidating the intellectual class, with many of them reluctant to attend any kind of conference abroad, while those living around the world with family members in Iran have become more circumspect. The overall affect has been to make American support and any interior soft revolution even more remote, he said. Iranian experts interviewed in the United States said the detention and intimidation of prominent intellectuals, artists and filmmakers, along with prohibiting them from traveling abroad even if they are dual nationals, has been far more extensive than has been reported.
Ms. Esfandiari went to Iran last year to visit her mother, who has been ill. She was barred from leaving the country in December, and underwent months of interrogation before being jailed in May.
In her television interview, Ms. Esfandiari said she was held in a large room with a window. I could have air whenever I wanted, and the food was very good, she said. Recently I had access to newspapers and television. The gentlemen who interrogated me were extremely polite and respectful. They always asked if I was tired. Mr. Bakhash said from Washington that he had spoken briefly to his wife on the telephone about an hour after her release, which came in the early evening Tehran time.
She said she had been ill and she had lost quite a bit of weight, said Mr. Bakhash, a professor of history at George Mason University. She sounded well and obviously delighted to be out of prison.
He added, We keep our fingers crossed and hope that now they have released her from prison they will allow her to rejoin us in America.
In Tehran, Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate who is Ms. Esfandiaris lawyer, said it was unclear whether Ms. Esfandiari could leave Iran. It depends on the judge, Ms. Ebadi said.
She was innocent and was held for three months in solitary confinement, she said.
At the State Department, the acting spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, called for the release of all Americans, but would not elaborate on what steps the United States government was taking.
A judiciary official said another Iranian-American scholar held since May, Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with ties to the Open Society Institute, which is financed by George Soros, might be released on bail within days, the ISNA student news agency reported.
However, his wife, Bahar Malek, said her husband had no such information. I spoke to him today but he had no idea that he could be released, she said. She visited her husband weekly and he was in good health, she said.
The two academics were shown on nationwide television in Iran in July, the program suggesting that they had been part of a project to try to overthrow the Iranian government much like the velvet revolutions in former Soviet republics.
Another American, Parnaz Azima, a reporter for the United States-funded Radio Farda, has not been allowed to leave Iran since earlier this year, when her family also posted their apartment as bail.
The fourth American, Ali Shakeri, with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine, remains in Evin prison. Last week a senior judiciary spokesman said his case was not linked to those of Ms. Esfandiari and Mr. Tajbakhsh.
Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Neil MacFarquhar from New York.