While working on her master thesis in Iran, she was arrested in October and November 2008, and subsequently prevented from leaving Iran. She is a citizen of both Iran and the USA.
The Momeni family went back to live in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but, as an adult, Esha returned to the United States to study. As a graduate student of the School of Communications, Media and Arts at California State University, Northridge campus, Momeni traveled to Iran in August 2008 to work on a master's degree. This involved making a documentary film about the women's rights movement in Iran, and she conducted interviews (in accordance with Iranian laws) with members of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Tehran as part of her California-based studies.
Arrest and detention
Esha Momeni was arrested on 15 October 2008 for unlawfully passing another vehicle while driving in Tehran. She was then held at the notorious Evin Prison. Prominent Iranian lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah represented her, although prison authorities illegally prevented him from visiting her there. He quoted officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Court as saying her detention related to involvement in the One Million Signatures Campaign "Change for Equality" campaign launched by women in Iran in September 2006.
The law of Iran does not require a permit to make video recordings in private homes. The “One Million Signatures Campaign” is considered a non-political organization. It is legal in Iran to advocate against discriminatory laws through peaceful means. According to Iranian lawyer, Nasrin Sotoodeh, “Criticizing the law is not illegal in any part of the world, including Iran.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the United Nations that Iranian citizens have the right to express themselves freely. However, many members of the One Million Signatures Campaign have been arrested for “propaganda against the state.” US-Iranians Kian Tajbakhsh, Haleh Esfandiari, and Ali Shakeri were imprisoned on these grounds. Amnesty International, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (run by OMCT and FIDH) believe Esha’s arrest is part of a systematic plan to discourage women activists from exercising their rights for equality. The Presidency of the European Union described her detention as a "violation of human rights."
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