Iran Charges U.S. Scholar With Spying

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center,
Iran on Monday charged a detained Iranian-American academic with seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment, state-run television reported.

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been held at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since early May.

Esfandiari, 67, came to Iran in December to visit her 93-year-old mother and, after her passports were stolen at knifepoint by masked men, was prevented from leaving the country when she tried to go home.

According to information supplied by the Wilson Center, she was subjected to weeks of interrogation, intimidation and threats by agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence "to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part."

In a statement released earlier this month, her arrest and incarceration was called "entirely unjustified."

State TV said she and the Wilson Center were conspiring together to topple the government by setting up a network "against the sovereignty of the country."

"This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," state TV said.

The announcement was the first time Iran said it had officially charged Esfandiari with seeking to overthrow the ruling establishment, a severe security crime. It was not immediately clear when Esfandiari will stand trial or if the trial will be public.

The broadcast said Esfandiari confirmed during interrogations that her center "invited Iranians to attend conferences, offered them research projects, scholarships ... and tried to lure influential elements and link them to decision-making centers in America."

Earlier this month, Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied a conservative Iranian newspaper's allegations that his wife was a spy and was trying to topple the government.

Former U.S. congressman Lee Hamilton, president and director of the Wilson Center, had previously sent a letter via the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking for his assistance in gaining Esfandiari's release. There has been no word of a reply.