A night of music and performance in support of Esha

Sami Eshaghi

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Lit mostly by white candles over 150 people assembled in a church and despite being brought together by oppression and struggle the energy remained positive and welcoming.

Friends, family and supporters of Esha Momeni, the communications graduate student who was detained a little over three months ago in Iran as she documented a grassroots movement opposing discriminatory laws against women, hosted the event to support and pay tribute to her.

‘What happened to Esha brought us all together,’ said Shahriar Azimi an information systems major at San Diego State University, who met Esha through the One Million Signatures Campaign.

‘She was very passionate about what she was doing and very full of positive energy.’

While Momeni was released from Evin prison on bail in November, Iranian officials have not permitted her to leave Iran.

The event on Friday night ‘A Night of Music, Poetry and Reflection’ included poetry recitals, musical performances and speakers.

Mehr Ensemble performed spiritual Iranian Sufi music on the steps of the altar sitting on Persian rugs. While Elahe Amani, a gender, peace and social justice activist at California State University, Long Beach and Fullerton read traditional Iranian poetry from the podium.

Momeni’s boyfriend, Hassan Hussein, remains hopeful that she will return to the states soon, despite the lack of developments in her case. Still he appreciates her release from prison and is worried about her studies and education.

‘We support and miss her,’ Hussein said.

The One Million Signatures Campaign that Momeni was documenting is making strides in 15 provinces in Iran, said Yassmin Manauchehri, a musicology graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles.

‘The goal and aim of this campaign is to gather one million signatures opposing discriminatory laws against women in Iran and telling the parliament in Iran that people don’t want this,’ said Manauchehri.

Momeni however is not alone and her struggle should serve as a reminder of that, said Soraya Fallah, chair of Women’s Rights Communications in the U.S. and coordinator for the Society for Human Rights in Iran.

‘We focus on Esha because she is a U.S. citizen, but there are thousands more wrongly imprisoned,’ Fallah said. ‘It’s very important for us to remember all of them.’

Momeni’s thesis advisor, Melissa Wall, described how persistent she was about going to Iran to work on her graduate project despite being warned about the danger and consequences in going by several advisors.

‘She’s a wonderful student,’ Wall said. ‘Very interested in ideas very easy to work with, much beloved by other students and faculty.’

Roja Bandari, a long time member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, met Momeni two years ago at one of their events.

The arrest of Esha Momeni as some believe wasn’t because of a traffic violation, Bandari said, this was all planned from the beginning and her arrest was actually very violent.

Authorities stopped and surrounded her in middle of the freeway without warning, broke into the car forcing her out, she said. Even though the Iranian government has arrested other members, she was the first person from outside of Iran that was arrested.

The church lobby wall displayed a collection Esha’s photographs as well as a t-shirt she designed for the One Million Signatures Campaign.

‘She was an artist, so it’s great that they’re incorporating (her) art,’ Cklara Moradian, member of the campaign.

The first half of the night concluded with a speech by another member of the grassroots campaign Omid Koohi.

‘This wasn’t the first time that my dreams of academic excellence in Iran and for Iranian students was broken,’ Koohi said.

He ended his speech by saying that support for the movement is not restricted Iranians, in fact people all over the world are supporting this movement including the Dalai Lama and six other Noble prize winners.

‘Together we can transform the future for women in Iran and our society.’