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Lawmakers Call for Release of U.S. Scholar Held in Iran

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007 4:18 PM

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as three lawmakers today called for the immediate release of Haleh Esfandiari, the American scholar imprisoned in Iran Tuesday after more than four months under virtual house arrest.

"The Iranian government's detention of this 67-year-old grandmother and scholar shows its complete disregard for basic human rights," Obama said in a statement. "If the Iranian government has any desire to engage the world in dialogue, it can demonstrate that desire by releasing this champion of dialogue from detention."

Clinton, noting Esfandiari's contribution in understanding both Iranian politics and international women's issues, expressed deep concern about Iran's "inexplicable detention." She also called on Iran to return the passport of Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda who had her passport confiscated and has been banned from leaving Iran since January.

In a joint statement, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, urged Iran to make a "gesture of goodwill" to the American people by immediately releasing Esfandiari, who is director of the Middle East program at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a resident of Potomac.

Mikulski and Cardin said the detention was "without cause or justification" and noted that Esfandiari had devoted her professional life to promoting understanding between the United States and Iran.

Esfandiari, a dual U.S.-Iranian national who has lived in the United States for more than a quarter century, was in Tehran visiting her ailing 93-year-old mother when she was summoned for weeks of interrogations by Iran's ministry of intelligence. She was summoned again Tuesday and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (D-Md.), said he plans to call on his congressional colleagues to pass a resolution demanding Esfandiari's "immediate and unconditional release."

The imprisonment "shows a gross disregard for the rule of law and belies statements by Iranian government officials that Iran would like to improve relations with the United States," Van Hollen said.

The Esfandiari case quickly ignited widespread reaction across the United States, with editorials and reports in major media and Foreign Policy magazine. "This is the most prominent detention of a U.S. citizen in Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis," the magazine said.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and president of the Wilson Center, is scheduled to appear on the PBS NewsHour tonight to discuss Esfandiari's arrest.

Esfandiari has been interrogated repeatedly about U.S. programs on democracy in Iran, especially at the Wilson Center, according to her family and the Wilson Center.

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