A major human rights organization is calling upon ordinary citizens to use the power of their pen to help free Homa Hoodfar. The retired Concordia anthropology/sociology professor is at the time of this writing, imprisoned in Iran without any formal charges having been brought against her.
“We have an Urgent Action out on her, reserved for individuals in immediate danger,” Amnesty International’s Elizabeth Berton-Hunter said. “We have a team of people across Canada and across the world writing letters directly to the authorities. Those letters, especially when each is by one person writing in their own words, are very powerful.”
Hoodfar, 65, was visiting family in Iran and carrying out academic research on women’s participation in elections. “Perhaps her work on feminism and on woman’s issues may be an issue here, but I find it would be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of her work,” Hoodfar’s niece Amanda Ghahremani had told a The Canadian Press journalist shortly after her aunt’s arrest on June 6.
In March her personal belongings, cell phone, and computer were seized by authorities and she was repeatedly taken for questioning. Though released on bail she was banned from leaving the country until she was arrested, days before she was to return to Canada.
She is now being held in Evin prison, with no access to her family, her lawyer, or even the medicine she needs to treat her myasthenia gravis, a neurological condition that causes the weakening of muscles, including those that control breathing.
The fact that Hoodfar held three citizenships, Canadian, Irish and Iranian, did not help her, Berton-Hunter said. “She was being treated like an Iranian. [Multiple] citizenships are not treated the same way, her Canadian citizenship was not recognized.” This has happened to others in other countries, such as China, as well, Berton-Hunter said. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Canadian embassy in Iran has been closed since 2012, with the Canadian government having to work through other embassies that country.
Hoodfar’s plight brings to mind the brutal murder at Evin Prison of Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi in 2003, that her son, fellow citizens and government were unable to prevent. According to a June 2016 report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, www.iranhumanrights.org women in that prison routinely endure inhumane conditions and are denied medical care even for serious illnesses.
Hoodfar’s Concordia colleagues have also started a petition and intervention campaign on her behalf at www.homahoodfar.org in which nearly 5,000 people have participated so far.