Academics call for Concordia prof Homa Hoodfar's immediate release

Academics in Montreal and Ireland are calling for the immediate release of Homa Hoodfar from an Iranian jail, where she has been held since her arrest on June 6 in Tehran.

Colleagues speak out amidst concerns over 65-year-old's deteriorating health

Canadian-Iranian scholar Homa Hoodfar has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since June 6 and suffers from a rare neurological disease. (Canadian Press)

Academics from Ireland and Canada are calling for the immediate release of Homa Hoodfar from an Iranian jail, where she has been held since her June 6 arrest in Tehran.

Kimberley Manning, principal of Concordia University's Simone de Beauvoir Institute, says there is growing concern within the academic community about Hoodfar's detention and deteriorating health.

She described the Concordia anthropology professor's situation as "life or death" and called on the Canadian and Iranian governments to do everything in their power to bring her home.

"This is an emergency," she said. "Right now, we don't even know whether Dr. Hoodfar is still alive."

More than 5,000 academics have signed a petition calling for Hoodfar's release, including notable intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, she said. 

Iranian authorities have charged Hoodfar, who is 65 and a citizen of Canada, Ireland and Iran, with collaborating with a hostile government against national security and with propaganda against the state — charges her family calls trumped up.

Ireland an option?

Manning took part in a news conference Wednesday in Montreal, while colleagues in Ireland held a rally in Dublin on Wednesday morning.

After staying quiet through the summer in the hopes the issue could be resolved through legal and diplomatic channels, the group of academics decided to speak out because of her deteriorating health.

Because Canada doesn't have direct diplomatic ties with Iran, her supporters believe Ireland may be in a better position to negotiate.

"Ireland has quite a good diplomatic relationship with Iran, and we're really hoping that the Irish government will do all it can to secure Homa's release," said Emer O'Toole, a professor of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia.

Concordia University academics held a news conference Wednesday calling for Homa Hoodfar's release. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

Colleagues commend Hoodfar's 'resilience'

Hoodfar suffers from a rare neurological disease called myasthenia gravis, which causes severe muscle weakness.

Marc Lafrance, a sociology and anthropology professor at Concordia, said her friends are in "awe of her resilience in such inhumane conditions."

Lafrance called Hoodfar "a balanced, even-minded scholar of the Muslim world."

Her friends and colleagues are tormented by questions about Hoodfar's well-being in prison, for instance, if she's getting enough food and water or is being allowed to go outside, Lafrance said.

"But these questions almost always lead us to deeper and darker ones," he said. 

"Is she being given her medication? Will officials see to it that she is not allowed to die in their custody?"

Hoodfar, an anthropologist at Concordia University who writes frequently on sexuality and gender in Islam, is being kept in solitary confinement, according to her niece, Amanda Ghahremani.

Hoodfar's family says Iranian authorities have refused regular visits by her lawyer and have tried to dismiss him.

with files from Susan Ormiston and Canadian Press