Let Them Go

Thursday, August 23, 2007

AFTER SPENDING months in solitary confinement in Iran's infamous Evin prison, Haleh Esfandiari was released on bail on Tuesday.

Ms. Esfandiari, 67, is one of four American citizens being held by Iranian authorities: Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, is also out on bail, but like Ms. Esfandiari, she is forbidden to leave the country. Kian Tajbakhsh, an Open Society Institute consultant and social scientist, and Ali Shakeri, a California businessman, remain in prison. Last month Ms. Esfandiari and Mr. Tajbakhsh appeared on an Iranian television show during which it was claimed they had taken part in a U.S.-backed plot to foment a velvet revolution.

A respected academic, head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an advocate of dialogue with Iran, Ms. Esfandiari has braved weeks of intensive interrogations about unfounded charges. The exact status of Iranian authorities' investigation into her alleged "crimes against national security" is unknown, according to her husband, Shaul Bakhash. Mr. Bakhash and other family members and friends said that in her interview with state-run television immediately after her release, Ms. Esfandiari looked tired and thin, and that they hoped she would be allowed to return home to Potomac, Md., for the sake of her mental and physical well-being.

It appears that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may have intervened in her case after receiving a letter from former U.S. representative Lee H. Hamilton, president of the Wilson Center and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. Mr. Hamilton says he made an appeal based on humanitarian grounds and on the good work Ms. Esfandiari has done in promoting peace and understanding between the two countries. Countless other scholars, political figures, students, nongovernmental organizations and others have appealed for her release and the release of the other Americans being held by Tehran.

These passionate appeals from around the world should demonstrate to the Iranian government that if it truly wants the world's respect, it should immediately drop all charges against these innocent Americans and release them without conditions.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company