MONTREAL – A university professor from Montreal has been jailed in Iran’s notorious Evin prison after conducting academic research on women in the country, her niece said Wednesday.
Homa Hoodfar, 65, was arrested Monday after being interrogated by authorities, her niece Amanda Ghahremani told The Canadian Press.
Ghahremani said her aunt, who was born in Iran but has been living in Montreal for 30 years, travelled to the country in February to see family and to do anthropological work.
Hoodfar, a professor at Montreal’s Concordia University, is an anthropologist and often studies issues surrounding feminism and the role of woman in Middle Eastern societies.
She was initially arrested in March, shortly before she was to return home, but was released on bail.
Ghahremani said after her release, authorities kept her passport, documents, computer and other personal belongings, and summoned her for several rounds of interrogations.
Hoodfar was once again summoned for interrogation on Monday but was not released.
Ghahremani said her aunt is not being allowed to see her lawyer or contact family.
“We are unclear as to what the charges are,” said Ghahremani, who lives in Montreal. “(Hoodfar) is not an activist and she has never been political. She has never engaged in anything that could even be remotely be construed as any form of sedition or political activity in any way.”
Hoodfar’s visit to Iran coincided with the country’s parliamentary elections at the end of February, and the first vote since the nuclear deal was signed with the United States.
At least 14 women – reportedly all reformists – won seats in the election, according to reports.
Ghahremani said her aunt wanted to take advantage of being in Iran during this time to conduct anthropological work.
“She has worked on improving the condition of women across the Middle East in the Muslim context,” Ghahremani said. “And she’s done it through a purely academic lens.”
“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,” Ghahremani said.
The Canadian government says it is working with allies to help Hoodfar.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said he and his parliamentary secretary for consular affairs met a member of her family.
“Will do everything we can,” said Dion, who did not give additional details because of privacy concerns.
The new Liberal government has said it will re-establish relations with Iran and reopen the embassy the previous Conservative government closed in Tehran 2012.
“It would be easier to have an embassy in Iran,” Dion said. “Because it’s not the case, we will do everything we can and working with the like-minded countries that are in Iran.”
But a senior government official not authorized to speak on the record told The Canadian Press this week that reopening the embassy is not imminent and more work needs to be done before relations can be re-established with Iran.
Hoodfar’s plight has harrowing echoes of the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer who was killed in the same prison in 2003.
“Evin prison is notorious and has been for a while,” Ghahremani said. “Initially when she was arrested (in March) we wanted to be very respectful of the domestic Iranian judicial system … but at this point now that she has been imprisoned we have no other choice but to go public and share the truth about her work.”