A spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary announced yesterday that three Iranian-Americans, including academic and women’s rights advocate Haleh Esfandiari, have been formally charged with endangering national security and espionage. Esfandiari, an Iranian-American and the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, was prevented from leaving Iran in December after visiting her ailing mother. According to the Associated Press, judiciary spokesperson Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters, “Esfandiari has been formally charged with endangering national security through propaganda against the system and espionage for foreigners.”
Similar charges have been made against two other Iranian-Americans: Kian Tajbakhsh, who works as an urban planning consultant at the Open Society Institute, and journalist Parnaz Azima. According to Reuters, the charges could warrant the death sentence under Iran’s Islamic sharia law.
In siding with the three detainees, State Department spokesperson Tom Casey stated that the detainees “certainly pose no threat or challenge to the [Iranian] regime,” the AP reports. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also come to the defense of the three detainees, telling reporters, “There are not people who are engaged in espionage. These are good dual citizens of the United States and Iran and it would have been a good thing if Iran were able to welcome people who want to improve life for Iranians and improve freedoms in Iran,” Reuters reports.
Iran’s detainment and legal action come during a time of increased persecution of activists and critics of the government, particularly of women’s rights activists.