Thousands sign petition calling for Iran to free professor

Iranian-Canadian Homa Hoodfar, who has conducted research on Islamic family law and Muslim dress codes, was imprisoned last month

July 12, 2016
Homa Hoodfar
Source: #FreeHoma campaign

More than 5,000 academics and authors have signed a petition for the Iranian government to free Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian academic who was imprisoned in the country last month.

Professor Hoodfar, an academic in the department of sociology and anthropology at Canada’s Concordia University, was arrested and imprisoned in Iran on 6 June, after travelling to the country to visit family and undertake research.

She is one of three dual nationals to be imprisoned in the country in the past year, according to multiple reports. On 11 June, local news agencies quoted Tehran’s prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, as saying that Professor Hoodfar had been formally charged.

According to the campaign website #FreeHoma, which started the petition calling for Professor Hoodfar to be released immediately and unconditionally and allowed to return to her home in Canada, she was arrested “without any indication of the reasons or charges for which the authorities were detaining her” and her lawyer and family have not been allowed to see her.

The petition has more than 5,000 signatures from academics and authors, while a separate student petition has 137 signatures.

On 24 June, the Tehran Public Prosecutor announced that she was being investigated for “dabbling in feminism and security matters”, according to the campaign website.

The website added that Professor Hoodfar has “published widely on gender and development, Islamic family law, refugees, informal economies, Muslim dress codes, and women’s political participation”.

Mary Evans, professor at the Gender Institute at London School of Economics (LSE), who worked at the University of Kent while Professor Hoodfar undertook her PhD at the same institution in the 1980s, told Times Higher Education that her research had examined Islamic societies and “women’s lives in these parts of the world” but it has “not been ‘capital P’ political”.

“There’s a general concern that there’s no reason to have, as it were, picked on her,” she said. “When I knew her she was very gentle, very quiet, and had no particular engagement in national politics.”

She added that Professor Hoodfar has had recent health issues and she is concerned that her family have not been allowed to provide her with medication since her imprisonment. According to #FreeHoma, she had a stroke last year and suffers from a rare neurological illness.

Alan Shepard, president of Concordia University, said in a statement after her arrest that Global Affairs Canada, the government department that deals with diplomatic relations, is “working through diplomatic channels to address this situation”.

“Dr Hoodfar is a valued member of the Concordia community, having taught and conducted research here for many years,” he said.

“She has a distinguished academic record. I have heard from several members of our community...seeking information or reassurance about Dr Hoodfar's situation.”

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