His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary General of the United Nations
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, New York 10017
Dear Mr. Secretary General:
We write to express our deep concern over the imprisonment on May 8th of renowned scholar and women's rights activist Haleh Esfandiari and the detention of journalist Parnaz Azima. Haleh Esfandiari currently serves as the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Parnaz Azima is a correspondent for the Persian language broadcaster Radio Farda. Both women have dual Iranian and American citizenship, yet are unable to leave Iran to be reunited with their children and grandchildren. We request you take urgent action to press the Government of Iran to secure the immediate release of Dr. Esfandiari and Ms. Azima and allow them to promptly return to the United States.
Dr. Esfandiari was in Iran in order to visit her 93-year-old mother. As she drove to the airport to return to Washington, she was robbed of her belongings, including her United States and Iranian passports. After Dr. Esfandiari applied for replacement Iranian travel documents, the Iranian government subjected her to repeated harassment and multiple interrogations because of her position as head of the Wilson Center's Middle East Program. On February 20th, former U.S Representative Lee Hamilton, the President and Director of the Wilson Center, wrote to President Ahmadinejad about Dr. Esfandiari's case and asked him to use his good offices to help send Dr. Esfandiari home; however, Mr. Hamilton has not received a reply. On May 8, Dr. Esfandiari was arrested after being summoned to meet with officials at the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran and taken to Evin prison. Reports have indicated she needed medical attention at that time and that her passport has been withheld.
Ms. Azima has been barred from leaving Iran since she arrived in January 2007 to pay a visit to her elderly and ill mother. Her work as a journalist for the U.S.-funded Persian language broadcaster Radio Farda contributes to expanding access to information for citizens in the Middle East. According to the State Department, her passport has been confiscated, and her lawyers have reportedly been told that she will be unable to leave the country for several years. In April, the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated that it was investigating the case, but to date, the government has taken no action to return the passport to Ms. Azima. In 2006, she was subject to similar harassment from the Iranian government, which seized her passport and refused to return it to her for several weeks.
The detention of these women is inexplicable and unjustifiable. Haleh Esfandiari is an author, journalist, and former Princeton University lecturer on such topics as international women's issues, contemporary Iranian politics, and democratic developments in the Middle East, and she has made significant contributions to the body of research on these issues. She has served as the Deputy Secretary General of the Women's Organization of Iran and has written extensively on the role of women as force for positive change in Iran. Her employer, the Wilson Center, is a respected public institution whose mission is to provide a forum for the exchange of views on global issues and it does not try to influence policies directed at the Iranian Government or any government in the Middle East. Ms. Azima works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Persian-language broadcasting service, which is run jointly with the Voice of America. Her journalistic work does not in any way involve activities that would compromise or threaten the Iranian government; rather, it serves to help provide vital information to individuals living in the Middle East. Detaining Dr. Esfandiari and Ms. Azima on questionable grounds contradicts the very essence of their work - to promote peace, reconciliation and freedom for all.
We urge you to intervene with the Government of Iran on behalf of these two Iranian-American women in order to end their unjust detention and ensure their imminent release and safe passage home.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Kay Bailey Hutchison
Barbara A. Mikulski
Susan M. Collins
Blanche L. Lincoln