Content Notice: torture, sexual assault.
Dr. Homa Hoodfar of Concordia University was arrested in Iran when she returned to visit her family following her husband’s death:
A Canadian academic researching women’s issues in the Middle East has been arrested and is being held in Iran’s Evin prison — a jail with a brutal history of violence toward its female inmates.
Initially hesitant to go public, the family of Concordia University professor Dr. Homa Hoodfar is now speaking out, saying they fear for her safety and health.
On March 10, while Hoodfar was visiting family and friends in Iran after the recent death of her husband, security officials raided her home and confiscated personal items including her computer and books, according to her niece Amanda Ghahremani. The raid happened only two days before the anthropologist was meant to return to Canada.
The Counter-Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards interrogated her several times over the next few days, arrested her and released her on bail, Ghahremani said in an interview with VICE News. Her passport was confiscated and she wasn’t allowed to leave the country.
The interrogations continued, and on June 6 — the last day her family had contact with her — she was arrested again. Her lawyer has had no access to her since then, and Iranian officials are not letting him view her file, so it’s not clear whether she is facing charges or not.
Evin Prison gained notoriety in Canada in 2003 when another Iranian-Canadian, Zahra Kazemi, died in Iranian custody after being arrested for taking pictures of the Evin Prison. The official story was, at first, that Kazemi went on a hunger strike and struck her head after fainting days later, resulting in her death. But a coroner later testified that Kazemi’s autopsy revealed extensive evidence of torture and rape, and that the immediate cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Iran expedited Kazemi’s burial, and no Canadian coroner has ever seen her body themselves, nor has any Canadian judge been asked to assess the charges against her. Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran deteriorated shortly after. No shortage of stories following the brutal treatment of the Evin inmates has come out since.
Hoodfar, 65, has a rare neurological illness, Myasthenia Gravis, which requires medication, and she was struck by a mild stroke last year. “She is very frail physically,” her niece said.
“We assume there are some political nature to the charges given where she’s been detained and who was involved in the detention, but we haven’t been given any information, and we don’t understand. We’re all quite baffled by what’s going on because Homa is an academic, she’s a professor, she is not an activist, she is not political. So we’re very confused as to why she is in these circumstances.”
VICE News reached out to Global Affairs Canada for comment Wednesday but has yet to hear back. Ghahremani said she had been in touch with consular officials but that Canadian officials have “very limited resources” in being able to help her aunt because there’s no Canadian embassy in Iran and no Iranian embassy in Canada.
Denying Dr. Hoodfar her medication is the same as murder, in this case. Dog above, don’t let her be another Zahra Kazemi.
She studied the role of the veil in Muslim society, and was critical of ideas in Western feminism that the veil was automatically an oppressive garment, her niece said.
If her research made her a target it was due to a misinterpretation of her work, she said.
“We need to act now for Homa, we need to act quickly,” her niece said.
Dr. Hoodfar isn’t even the political boogeywoman the Iranian government is looking for.