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IRAN: Los Angeles woman arrested in Tehran

October 23, 2008 |  8:36 am

Eshamomeni1

It seemed like a routine traffic stop.

At first.

Esha Momeni, an Iranian American scholar visiting the Iranian capital, was pulled over by police Oct. 15. She had allegedly committed some traffic violation while driving along Tehran's main north-south highway.

But instead of writing up a ticket and sending her on her way, the purported traffic cops escorted her to her family's home.

They searched the place, human rights organizations say, confiscating her computer and footage of interviews she'd conducted as part of her research.

Then, they took the 28-year-old away, according to a report issued Tuesday by Amnesty International.

The Los Angeles-born Momeni, a graduate student at California State University-Northridge, is reportedly being held in the infamous Section 209 of Tehran's Evin Prison, though officials have not announced any charges.

Amnesty and others worries that she's being subjected to physical torture. Her plight has been reported by international media. Friends have launched a website to demand her release.

Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters this week that U.S. officials were seeking more information about the case. "We stand with all those in Iran who are working for universal human rights and justice in their countries," he told reporters.

A friend, filmmaker Anayansi Prado, told her college newspaper, the Daily Sundial, that she was being held in solitary confinement:

She's not allowed to have contact with her parents. She's being held in one of the most notorious prisons of the world.

But if the experiences of past Iranian Americans is any guide, she's likely being treated reasonably well, though held incommunicado and subject to grueling interrogations by authorities suspicious of her political affiliations.

Momeni is a member of Change for Equality, a nonprofit organization which aims to improve the status of women in Iran. It trains women in nonviolent political activism and civil disobedience, tactics the Iranian government equates with the type of "velvet revolution" movements that toppled governments in Georgia and Serbia.

Momeni arrived in Iran about two months ago to research a master's-degree thesis about Iran's women’s movement. According to Amnesty, she had conducted conducted video interviews with members of the group in Iran.

Her professor, Melissa Wall, told Change for Equality that she was shocked that Momeni was arrested:

"Esha is an exceptionally bright person, very creative and artistic. As a member of her thesis committee, I understood that she was mostly interested exploring issues related to women in Iran, with an emphasis on clearing up misconceptions the world might hold in this regard."

At an Oct. 20 court hearing attended by relatives at one of Tehran's Revolutionary courts, officials said that no details would be disclosed released until an investigation was complete.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Esha Momeni. Credit: Change for Equality

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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