Iran releases Canadian-Iranian professor Homa Hoodfar, held since June

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 8:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 8:39am

A Canadian-Iranian retired professor was released from an Iranian prison on “humanitarian grounds” and flown out of the country on Monday, Iran’s state-run news agency said, ending her months of detention alongside other dual nationals swept up by hard-liners in the security services.

Homa Hoodfar was flown to the Arab Gulf nation of Oman, the brief report from the IRNA news agency said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed her release in a statement, thanking Italy, Switzerland and Oman for their help in the matter.

Hoodfar, 65, was questioned and barred from leaving Iran in March after travelling to the country to visit family following the death of her husband. Her family said she has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since June. Hoodfar until recently taught anthropology and sociology at Montreal’s Concordia University.

In July, Iran announced indictments for Hoodfar and three others, without providing any details about the accusations. In recent weeks, Hoodfar’s supporters described her health as deteriorating while she was in solitary confinement, saying she was “barely able to walk or talk.”

Hoodfar’s supporters had pressed diplomats to discuss her case during the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York. Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the meeting Wednesday, state television reported.

Kaveh Ehsani, a friend of Hoodfar’s in Chicago, said Monday that her supporters asked for “a period of crucial privacy before Homa and her family can address the media.”

The state-run Oman News Agency published pictures of Hoodfar arriving in Muscat, the Omani capital, on an air force jet and being greeted by her niece. It quoted Hoodfar as saying she’d spend time in Muscat before returning to Canada.

“I’m really grateful to his majesty, Sultan Qaboos, for making this happen ... after so many months, so many days in prison,” a soft-spoken Hoodfar told Omani state television.

Oman, a Gulf Arab country on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is a U.S. ally and has been ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since 1970. It has served as a mediator between Iran and the West on previous occasions.

Canada has not had an embassy in Iran since 2012, when its then-Conservative-led government cut diplomatic ties over Tehran’s contested nuclear program and other issues.

Trudeau said Canadians are “relieved that Dr. Hoodfar has been released from jail and will soon be reunited with her family, friends and colleagues.”

“I would also like to recognise the cooperation of those Iranian authorities who facilitated her release and repatriation. They understand that cases like these impede more productive relations,” he added.

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, meaning those detained cannot receive consular assistance. In previous cases, dual nationals have faced secret charges in closed-door hearings in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Several dual nationals have been arrested in the year since world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

Analysts have suggested Iranian hard-liners hope to use them as bargaining chips with the West. A prisoner swap in January between Iran and the US that freed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans in exchange for pardons or charges dropped against seven Iranians also saw the US make a US$400 million cash delivery to Iran.

While that money repaid a 1970s Iranian account to buy US military equipment, it was contingent on the prisoner release. That’s garnered criticism from Republicans in an election year.