Canadian prof Homa Hoodfar, jailed in Iran, falls ill in solitary confinement

A professor from Montreal who has been imprisoned in Iran was recently hospitalized, is barely conscious and can hardly walk or talk, according to family.

Authorities 'are not prioritizing her health and do not intend to respect Homa's due process rights'

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)

A professor from Montreal who has been imprisoned in Iran since June was recently hospitalized, is barely conscious and can hardly walk or talk, according to family. 

Homa Hoodfar, an anthropologist at Concordia University, is being kept in solitary confinement nearly three months after her arrest in Tehran on June 6 while on a personal and research visit to Iran, said her niece, Amanda Ghahremani. 

Hoodfar's family says Iranian authorities have refused regular visits by her lawyer and have tried to dismiss him. During his one visit in July, he was forbidden to discuss her case and has been denied all access to her legal file, the family said. 

She has had only one other visitor, a few weeks ago, who informed the family Hoodfar had been hospitalized at one point before being returned to her cell. 

"It has become clear that the authorities are not prioritizing her health and do not intend to respect Homa's due process rights under Iranian law," Ghahremani said.

"We're incredibly scared." 

We are so scared for her: Hoodfar's niece

7 years ago
Duration 5:23
Amanda Ghahremani tells of her 65-year-old aunt being sick in an Iranian prison under solitary confinement

Hoodfar is 65 and suffers from a rare neurological disease called myasthenia gravis, which causes severe muscle weakness.

We were asked by the Iranian judicial authorities to tone down the media on Homa's case.— Amanda Ghahremani, niece

She writes frequently on sexuality and gender in Islam. She went to Iran in February to see family and conduct research in a visit that coincided with Iranian elections.

"My aunt is an academic. She's not an activist," Ghahremani said. "She has never violated any Iranian law. She's always worked … within the parameters of the constitution and Islamic strictures." 

Two days before her departure back to Canada in March, she was visited by the counter-intelligence unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who seized her computer and passport and told her not to leave the country. After interrogation at Evin prison in June, she was arrested and since then has had no contact with her family.

Iranian authorities have charged her with collaborating with a hostile government against national security and with propaganda against the state — charges her family calls trumped-up.

The charges were never presented to her lawyer and instead were published in the Iranian press, quoting the prosecutor as saying Hoodfar was "dabbling in feminism". A court set terms for her to be released on bail, but her lawyer's numerous attempts to post bail have been ignored.

"We were asked by the Iranian judicial authorities to tone down the media on Homa's case in order to allow the legal process to take its course," Ghahremani said. "The court has blatantly and repeatedly violated Iran's own laws."

'This case is a priority'

Amnesty International weighed in on Tuesday, calling Hoodfar a prisoner of conscience and contextualizing her detention against what it called a "broad and chilling crackdown against women's rights activists and researchers" in Iran. 

Hoodfar's family met with Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion in June and was assured the government was trying every diplomatic channel. Ghahremani received similar assurances in a further meeting with Global Affairs Canada officials Tuesday in Ottawa, she said. 

In an emailed statement from Global Affairs Canada on Monday night, spokesman John Babcock said: "We are working with our allies and on every option in order to press the case‎. Privacy considerations prevent the department from discussing Government of Canada involvement in further detail; however, rest assured that this case is a priority for us." 

Without formal diplomatic channels in Iran — Canada closed its Tehran Embassy in 2012 — Ottawa has to rely on allies with official diplomatic ties.

Thomas Juneau, a Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, said "not having an embassy in Tehran makes this hard."

But because Hoodfar is a triple citizen — of Canada, Iran and Ireland — her family is also hoping for help from diplomats in Dublin. 

"We're hoping that the Canadians, the Irish, and the Iranians are all paying attention," Ghahremani said. 

"I would always love for [Ottawa] to do more, for the Irish to do more. I'm hoping they will do everything that they have within, you know, their diplomatic power."


Susan Ormiston

Senior correspondent

Susan Ormiston's career spans more than 25 years reporting from hot spots such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Lebanon and South Africa.