American scholar allowed to leave Iran

Tehran, Iran — Tehran, Iran -- An American scholar accused of promoting revolution in Iran has been allowed to leave the country and reunite with her family in Austria, ending months of protests by human rights groups and heated exchanges between Tehran and Washington.

Haleh Esfandiari, 67, who was released on bail Aug. 21 after four months in prison, was told by Iranian authorities Sunday to pick up her passport, her lawyer said yesterday. She flew from Tehran to Austria, where her sister lives, to rejoin her husband, Shaul Bakhash, a historian at George Mason University in Virginia. She lives in Potomac, Md.


"After a long and difficult ordeal, I am elated to be on my way back to my home and my family," Esfandiari said in a statement released by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, where she heads the Middle East studies program. "These last eight months that included 105 days in solitary confinement in Evin prison have not been easy. But I wish to put this episode behind me and to look to the future, not to the past."

There were also indications that Parnaz Azima, an Iranian-American journalist working for U.S.-funded Radio Farda who has been charged with similar crimes, would be allowed to leave the country. Azima has been free on bail.


"I was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry, and they told me, 'Go and collect your passport,'" Azima told the Los Angeles Times yesterday. "But today it was too late and I couldn't make it because of office hours. Tomorrow, I will pick up my passport and leave the country as soon as possible."

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry has accused Esfandiari of espionage and of cooperating with the Bush administration to influence students, scholars and others to instigate a peaceful revolution to overthrow the Iranian government. The scholar, if called by Tehran, would be required to return and face trial, said Shiran Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is one of Esfandiari's lawyers.

Esfandiari was robbed of her travel documents by masked men while she was preparing to leave Iran at Christmas. When she sought new documents, she was barred from leaving Iran and was subjected to weeks of interrogation. On May 8, she was imprisoned at Evin without access to a lawyer. She was released last month after posting the equivalent of $333,000 in bail.

Ramin Mostaghim and Jeffrey Fleishman write for the Los Angeles Times.