Graduate student Esha Momeni first to receive Academic Freedom Award

The arrest and imprisonment of Iranian-American graduate student Esha Momeni received national attention last semester when she was jailed while working on her thesis project in Iran.

Momeni, 28, was arrested and held without bail Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008 for allegedly passing another vehicle illegally on Moddaress highway.  She was held in solitary confinement at Evin prison for roughly two-and-a half weeks before being released and the deed to her parents’ home taken as bail.
The mass communications grad student had been filming interviewing volunteers with the One Million Signatures campaign, a women’s rights organization seeking to amend Iran’s constitution to recognize men and women as equal, as part of her academic project.  After she was arrested, her property was seized, including her computer and video footage.  Momeni had also been a volunteer with the organization’s California chapter.

“She’s a student, artist and humanitarian, and she’s being detained,” friend and filmmaker, Anayansi Prado, told the Daily Sundial last October.  “This is a violation of human rights.”

Journalism graduate adviser Dr. Melissa Wall, who sat on Momeni’s thesis committee, said last October the department was “very, very concerned about her safety.  We all know she was not doing anything wrong.”

Though she was released Nov. 10, 2008, Momeni remains in Iran.  Initially, there were “no obstacles if she wants to leave [the] country,” Iranian judiciary spokesperson Alireza Jamshidi told the media last November.  But family and friends disputed government officials’ claims, saying that Momeni’s passports had been seized and travel restrictions were placed against the student.

Momeni’s fiancé, Hassan Hussain, had called the process “frustrating” at the time because the government officials repeatedly summoned and interviewed Momeni, but did not provide any further information on her case.

Momeni’s friends and colleagues held a candlelight vigil Nov. 11, originally to urge Iranian officials to release her from prison.  When Momeni was released the day before the vigil took place, mass communications grad students who organized the event said they would continue to work to bring attention to her case.

Anasa Sinegal, a grad student and part-time professor who helped organize the vigil, told the Daily Sundial “we don’t know the Iranian legal system and until she’s back, we can’t stop our work.”

Momeni was charged with “acting against national security” in mid-November of 2008, said Jamshidi.  In January of this year, he said a travel ban was reissued against Momeni because “a new issue has opened” and the investigation would take another month.

In light of the recent arrest and imprisonment of U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a letter to Iranian officials asking for further information and the release of Momeni.

On May 5, CSUN’s journalism department awarded Momeni with their first Academic Freedom Award.