AUGUST 14, 2014 —
Thursday August 14, 2014.
Homa Hoodfar arrives in Montreal
After 112 days in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, Concordia Professor Homa Hoodfar finally touched down in Montreal Thursday morning, embraced by friends, family and supporters who worked tirelessly for her release.
“I want to say it’s wonderful to be home,” Hoodfar told a contingent of reporters at Trudeau airport. “I’ve had a bitter seven months, and the detention has left me weak and tired.”
Hoodfar thanked the government of Canada for helping secure her release, as well as that of Oman, which she noted extended its generous hospitality since Monday to help her recover.
She also thanked the Iranian official who helped facilitate her release on humanitarian grounds, students, family and colleagues, “and especially civil society, human rights (advocates) and feminist organizations who campaigned and mobilized for my freedom.”
Hoodfar was not ready to discuss details of how she was treated in the Iranian prison, said her niece Amanda Ghahremani, who was on hand at the news conference. Hoodfar said the hardest part of her detention was the isolation.
“When I was detained in June, not knowing what was happening with my friends, not being able to communicate with anyone, especially family members, that was the hardest thing — knowing that my family was very worried,” she said.
She said her lawyer was fired, and didn’t know what was happening when she was told to get ready at 8 a.m. Monday.
“I didn’t feel I would be released until I was on the jet. In Iran, nothing is complete until it is complete,” she said. “As they say in Iran, nothing is possible and everything is possible.”
Sitting in her cell, she often thought about summer in Montreal, and she said it felt wonderful to be back in a secure place.
Hoodfar, 65, an anthropologist who writes about gender and Islam, was doing academic research while visiting loved ones in her country of birth. She arrived at Trudeau airport from Oman, one of three countries that along with Canada helped secure her freedom.
Her arrival marks the end of a long and stressful ordeal that began when she was arrested and charged with propaganda against the state and “collaboration with a hostile government,” as well as “dabbling in feminism,” as the Iranian prosecutor put it.
A dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, Hoodfar had returned for a visit in February, as she has done many times. But in March, she was arrested by the counter-espionage service of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, set up to protect the Islamic system. Her computers and identification papers were seized, but after being interrogated she was released on bail.
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She was arrested again in June, however, and imprisoned in Evin, where countless political prisoners and intellectuals have been detained, and often tortured.
In 2003, Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, also a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, was imprisoned after taking photographs outside the prison and died there, of blunt trauma to the head. Her autopsy later revealed she had been raped and tortured.
Hoodfar’s colleagues, friends and family feared the worst, especially in the last few weeks when the scant news they received was of her deteriorating health and that her lawyer had been dismissed.
Hoodfar suffers from a rare, neuromuscular disease and had a mild stroke last year. At one point during her detention she was hospitalized then returned to her cell. She also lost her husband last year, and had gone to Iran in part to recover emotionally.
“There were times when as hopeful as we tried to be, things were looking dim,” said Theresa Bianco, a friend in the psychology department at Concordia, where Hoodfar’s late husband worked, and a member of the university’s faculty association.
“For all of us it was an assault on academic freedom. Part of our job is to ask tough questions and advance knowledge … and it’s important to have a cross-cultural perspective. This was not just about one person but about what she represents, including for women’s rights.”
Hoodfar, thinner and weaker than she was four months ago, told reporters she would be staying put in Montreal, at least for the time being.
But the ordeal won’t dissuade her from continuing her “dabbling” and her research — quite the opposite, she said.
“Not only (it won’t) stop me from that, but it has opened new avenues that I would not have pursued in the same way as before,” Hoodfar said. “For better or worse I have always been media-shy, staying in the background. Now you see what the Iranian government has done!”
It’s not yet clear what ultimately led to Hoodfar being released after three and a half months.
Among those at the airport to greet and hug Hoodfar were colleagues from Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, the department of sociology and anthropology, and the university’s faculty association, who together with students set up the Free Homa Hoodfar website, held street protests and kept pressure on the government to intervene. Some 5,000 academics and authors worldwide clamoured for her release.
Marc Lafrance, another friend and colleague, who prepared Hoodfar’s home in Montreal for her return so she would have a comfortable place to rest, believes her release was the result of a combination of efforts from all sides.
“I’m really pleased with how the government handled it, but certainly the solidarity movement we built was a force to reckon with,” Lafrance said.
By all accounts the government of Justin Trudeau played a lead role, with help from other countries. On Monday, the day Hoodfar was released, Trudeau released a statement noting that in the absence of diplomatic representation of its own in Iran, Canada worked closely with Oman, Italy and Switzerland to secure her release.
He thanked those countries and recognized the co-operation of Iranian authorities who facilitated her release.
“The Canadian government and Global Affairs were an incredible support to the family and me especially,” Ghahremani said. “They were there every step of the way and did everything possible to get this result. … I can’t believe she’s here with me today.”