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IRAN - May 21 - Tehran Charges Iranian-American Academic With Conspiracy.

Iran charges Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic, with seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment, state-run television reported. Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, has been held at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since early May. State TV, quoting an Intelligence Ministry statement, said she and the Wilson Center were conspiring to topple the government by setting up a network "against the sovereignty of the country. This is an American designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country". Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, has denied allegations that his wife was a spy and was trying to topple the government. A spokeswoman for the Center called the claims untrue. The announcement was the first time Iran said it had officially charged Esfandiari with seeking to overthrow the ruling establishment, a severe security crime. It was not immediately clear when Esfandiari would stand trial or if the trial would be public. The broadcast said Esfandiari confirmed during interrogation that her center "invited Iranians to attend conferences, offered them research projects, scholarships" and "tried to lure influential elements and link them to decision-making centers in America". The Intelligence Ministry also accused the Soros Foundation in New York of being involved in the network, and Iran's secret services claimed other, unidentified American institutions were working with US intelligence agencies to target other countries, state TV said. It did not elaborate. Esfandiari, who has been living in the US since 1980, has for years brought prominent Iranians to Washington to talk about the situation in Iran; some of these people have subsequently been detained and questioned back home. Esfandiari's defenders in the US say some of those she brought to America were supporters of the Iranian government who sought to explain Tehran's stance to Americans. Esfandiari came to Iran in December to visit her 93-year-old mother, but later that month was prevented from leaving the country when three masked men with knives stole her luggage and passport as she headed to the airport to leave, according to the Wilson Center. In the weeks before her arrest this month, she was called in for questioning daily, the center said. Her arrest came amid increasing restrictions on domestic nongovernmental organizations - particularly women's rights groups - and other critics by the hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian authorities have stepped up their warnings that the US aims to use internal critics to destabilize the Iranian government amid the mounting tensions between the two countries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Esfandiari "ought to be released and she ought to be released immediately". Other Iranian-Americans have been prohibited from leaving Iran in recent months, including a journalist, Parnaz Azima, who works for the US-funded Radio Farda. The former FBI agent Robert Levinson, disappeared in March after going to Iran's resort island of Kish, and his whereabouts are unknown. The Wilson Center is a nonpartisan institution established by Congress in 1968 and funded through private and public funds, according to its Web site.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 26, 2007
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