An Iranian Canadian academic who conducts research on gender issues in the Middle East has been arrested without formal charges and sent to the notorious Evin Prison, her family said Thursday.
Homa Hoodfar, an anthropological professor at Concordia University in Montreal, was arrested Monday after months of repeated questioning and interrogations, her niece Amanda Ghahremani told WorldViews.
The 65-year-old's research and academic work are focused on "improving the lives of women across the Middle East," and her family speculates that her arrest is a misunderstanding. "She is not an activist or political in any way," her niece said. "Hoodfar's work is balanced, and she has given credit to the Iranian government."
So far, Iranian authorities have denied her lawyer visitation rights or access to her files. Her family is becoming increasingly alarmed because she suffers from a rare neurological disease, and authorities have refused to allow Hoodfar's relatives and lawyer to give her prescription medication, according to the family's statement. A Facebook pagecreated less than one day ago urging Hoodfar's release has already gathered 1,000 "likes."
Hoodfar traveled to Iran in February, and although her visit was primarily for personal reasons, her trip happened to coincide with the country's parliamentary elections, during which a record number of women won seats in parliament.
Shortly before Hoodfar was scheduled to leave the country in March, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards entered her home, took her belongings and summoned her to Evin prison for interrogation.
Ghahremani said they interrogated her aunt for five days and that although she was released each night, the interrogations lasted nine hours each day."It took a psychological toll on her," she said.
Hoodfar's family said in the statement that her passport and papers were confiscated during the raid and she was banned from leaving the country.
Although Canada has not had an embassy in Iran since 2012, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told the Associated Press that "we will do everything we can [by] working with the like-minded countries that are in Iran."
Hoodfar's detention comes as an increasing number of dual nationals have been detained over the past few years. At least two Iranian Americans and a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon have been detained, according to the New York Times.
Iranian law does not recognize dual nationals. Instead, the government treats them as Iranian citizens. That's why foreign governments have minimal leverage when it comes to helping dual nationals who have been arrested.
In the past, President Hassan Rouhani has encouraged the Iranian diaspora to visit Iran. "It is the natural right of every Iranian to be able to visit his or her homeland," Rouhani said to a group of Iranians during his visit to the 2013 U.N. General Assembly.
He has also suggested that he wants to change the way dual nationals are treated if they are arrested. In an interview with NPR in 2015, when asked whether he had advocated for the release of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, Rouhani said he proposed that "the government must render all possible aid in resolving their issues."
So why is Iran arresting more dual nationals?
Hadi Ghaemi from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran told the Guardian that Hoodfar's arrest was "another sign of intolerance and suspicion towards dual nationals who travel to Iran and just want to contribute to their homeland by academic work."
Al Monitor's Bijan Khajepour has noted in the past that there seems to be worry among hard-liners over how Iranian society will develop within the next decade. Hence, the arrest of dual nationals is meant to discourage Iranians abroad from returning.