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Iranian-American Scholar Leaves Iran After Three Months in Jail


Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari has left Iran after spending more than three months in prison on spy charges. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Haleh Esfandiari was released from prison last month after her family posted more than $300,000 in bail. But she was not able to leave the country until Sunday, after authorities handed back her passport.

Family members say arrived in Austria and will later return home to the United States.

Haleh Esfandiari was detained in May, while in Iran to visit her elderly mother. The authorities accused her of trying to foment, what they termed a soft revolution.

Iranian television aired interviews with Esfandiari, described as confessions of her involvement in an American plot to topple the regime and the clerical establishment. Washington dismissed the allegations.

Esfandiari was one of several Iranian-American scholars recently detained in Iran.

Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian-American Council in Washington. He says the detention of Esfandiari is part of a broader campaign of harassment and suppression.

"The hardline factions of the Iranian authorities are conducting an intimidation campaign against their own citizens and others," Parsi said.

Esfandiari is a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Iran is still detaining two Iranian-Americans, urban planner Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri, who works for a university conflict-resolution group. Iran is also preventing journalist Parnaz Azima of the U.S.-funded Radio Farda from leaving the country.

Trita Parsi says it is hard to predict if Esfandiari's release signals further releases.

"It is not a guarantee that the others will be released, but it does offer some hope and some optimism," Parsi said.

Iranian authorities have said that Esfandiari will forfeit her bail if she does not return to Iran for a future trial. But, her lawyers say it is likely the case will never get that far due to lack of evidence.

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