May 22, 2007
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with conducting activities against the Iranian government, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry said Monday.
In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey called the charges "just silly."
"Haleh Esfandiari is not a threat to this Iranian government or the regime as a whole," he told CNN.
"She is an academic and a voice for tolerance and people-to-people exchanges between the Iranian and American people. We can't imagine why she is considered a threat."
He added, "We think the Iranian government ought to release her and let her come back home so she can focus on her academic work and help the exchange of views between Iranians and Americans."
Esfandiari, who has dual citizenship in Iran and the United States, runs the Middle East programs for the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
She was jailed on May 7 after having been prevented from leaving the country for four months, said Lee Hamilton, the center's president.
She went to Tehran to visit her elderly mother in late 2006, Hamilton said. She was on her way to Tehran's airport to catch a flight back to the United States on December 30 when her taxi was stopped by three men who stole her luggage and handbag, which contained both her passports, he said.
While attempting to replace her documents at the passport office, a representative of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry took her for questioning.
According to Hamilton, that began a series of interrogations about her work at the Wilson Center, in which interrogators suggested Esfandiari and the Wilson Center were involved in "subversive activities."
Hamilton said Esfandiari was allowed to return to her mother's home after each round of questioning, which continued into mid-February.
After not hearing from the Iranian authorities for weeks, Esfandiari was contacted earlier this month and asked to make what in effect would be a confession, Hamilton said.
When she refused, she was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence last Monday, where, Hamilton said, she was put in a car and taken to Tehran's Evin Prison.