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Iran Hardliners Target Dual Nationals


The Obama administration says it's troubled by the lengthy prison terms that Iranian courts recently handed down to three Iranian-Americans. The British government is also trying to get some of its nationals out of Iranian jails. Both countries might learn something from a Canadian woman who, this year, also spent time in an Iranian jail. She spoke with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Sixty-five-year-old Homa Hoodfar was just beginning her life in retirement and wanted to reconnect with family in Iran. But her planned three-week trip ended up lasting months and included 112 harrowing days in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

HOMA HOODFAR: I didn't experience physical violence except that I could not sleep in the cell because the lights were on all the time. And also there were very little air in this very small cell.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype from her home in Montreal, she says the lack of sleep took a toll on her health. Hoodfar was an anthropology professor at Canada's Concordia University and writes about women in the Muslim world. She says her jailers asked a lot about that.

HOODFAR: They said I am working as a part of the Velvet Revolution. And I'm trying to change the Islamic culture to Western culture. So those were the kind of argument they were presenting to me. Ultimately, they charged me with collaborating with hostile states.

KELEMEN: Three Iranian-Americans are facing similar charges now and lengthy prison terms. Iran is also holding several British-Iranians. Hoodfar sees these cases and her own legal ordeal as part of a power struggle as Iranian hardliners try to undermine the elected government of President Hassan Rouhani.

She and the others were arrested by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which she says has a lot of power but doesn't have to answer to voters in Iran. Now she plans to highlight that in a book - joking that she treated her time in jail as field work.

HOODFAR: It's not the kind of field work that I would choose to do but anthropologists always - their main method has been participant observation.

KELEMEN: She put on her anthropologist's hat and started interviewing her cellmates, mostly young Iranian sex workers.

HOODFAR: Because I had no pen and paper initially for the first two months and I was just writing with my toothbrush on the marble stone of the cell.

KELEMEN: It was her way of memorizing their stories. Hoodfar was let out of prison at the end of September. Iran called it a humanitarian gesture. Canada said it didn't offer any inducements. Hoodfar credits Canadian diplomacy and support from abroad.

HOODFAR: I received a lot of letters of support from academic institutions but also from feminist institutions - not just from the West but also from countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt.

KELEMEN: And that's her advice for the families of other jailed dual nationals - keep up the public campaigns and make them global. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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