May 8, 2009
Posted: 2019 GMT

asha-momeni_-_TreeThe past few weeks at the International Desk, we've brought you several stories involving women in the Middle East. But I would like to introduce you to a story of a young woman that seems to be flying under the radar. Her name is Esha Momeni. She is a 28-year-old graduate student at California State University, Northridge. Like most graduate students, she’s motivated, hard-working, and determined to complete an in-depth and complex Masters thesis. One problem. Momeni is trapped in Iran.

Late last summer, the U.S. born Iranian-American went to Iran to visit her family and work on her Masters thesis. Her topic? "Change for Equality." That’s the name of an Iranian women's rights movement of which she is a member. In October, Momeni was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation. But instead of giving her a ticket and sending her on her way, officers escorted her to her family's home, confiscated her computer and research and interview materials, and jailed her in the infamous Evin Prison, according to a report from the human rights group Amnesty International. After she had spent nearly a month behind bars with some of Iran's most dangerous criminals, Momeni's family put up the deed to their apartment to meet the $200,000 bail, clearing the way for her release. Six months later, she is still unable to return to Los Angeles because Iranian authorities will not return her passport, family and friends say. They say she was detained due to the sensitive nature of her thesis topic and her involvement in Iranian women's rights groups. Her friends say she followed Iranian laws regarding filming and interviews and was not attempting to make any kind of a political statement. In a letter to Iran last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged that Momeni be allowed to travel.

Her fiancé, Hassan Hussain, along with the entire university community, hope that Momeni will be able to return to the United States and complete her degree. Her blog, , which was created by her family and friends, tracks the progress being made to get Momeni out of Iran and back home.

Whatever happens, it seems doubtful that Momeni, after years of research and time spent on her thesis, will be able to walk across the stage with her classmates and receive her diploma in June. Her graduate adviser, Dr. Melissa Wall, fears it will be too late for Momeni to meet the requirements to graduate, even if she is allowed to return home now.

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Fawad Ali   May 9th, 2009 12:12 pm ET

Somebody got to explain Iranian government a difference between journalists and intelligence guys. But I'm sure, they don't wanna know it and even if they understand the difference still it won't make an iota of difference. Their attitude says it all: free media and Iranian regime can’t get along.

Like always, diplomacy intent to seek bigger goals. Harsh reality is that the negotiations on Nuke Program forcing nations, like the US and others, to ignore human rights, freedom of speech, etc. related issues in Iran......

Debbie   May 10th, 2009 11:35 pm ET

She took a big risk going over there! In these countries, women don't have the rights as women do in the US. Why go there? It is stupid! A person just asks for it.
Americans will probably have to pay in taxes on their retirement to pay for illigal aliens or legal immigrants that are here, just so they can live, and they have not worked all their life here like all Americans do. Why should we have to pay for them.
If everyone would stay in their own country, their would be no problems in the world today.

jack   May 11th, 2009 1:22 pm ET

great story, can CNN do another story about the civillians killed in Afghanistan by US army air raids , can CNN present a story about the two million Palestinians in GAZA under siege by Israel, can CNN do a story about the 20 thousand Palestinians in Israeli presons, can CNN do a story about prisoners rights in Guantanamo, can CNN do a story about american soldiers torturing, raping and killing prisoners in Iraq so that we can compare who is worst the Iranian, Israeli or the American administration?

Adin   May 11th, 2009 1:48 pm ET

this is really a sad story, i'm so sorry for esha momeni, but she should know better, she knew what kind of situation is in Iran, and how sensitive situation on womens is, but there is politics here. if the relations between Iran and the United States were normal and friendly this wouldn't happen. USA must work harder to improve relations with Iran. Iran is a great nation, not some small country like Grenada where americans could do what they want.... I do not support Iran and his policy because I think it's not very in democratic spirit, but i also don't support USA, they too are not acting in peaceful and democratic way.
I must also say that CNN International is not objective enough, and that is very dissapointing for me because i watch you every day, and you are my main source of information. As one person commented before me, you are not showing equally governments, administrations and countries and their policies.. for example Israel is doing more damage to world peace, and crimes, than Iran, but still CNNI never talks about Israel in a way that you talk about Iran.
I guess that is because CNNI is american television and the entire world knoes that the USA is under huge Israeli and jewish influence.
Despite all of this, I'm still a big fan of CNNI, i am watching you right now, you are very good in a lot of things, just a little more objectivity.
Thank you.

Adin, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mary   May 11th, 2009 4:19 pm ET

Great story Heather. CSUN is awarding her with the Academic Freedom Award, by the Dept. of Journalism. Everyone is working hard to get her home!
I think it was courageous and extremely brave of her to go and fight for the women in Iran.

Tara   May 11th, 2009 5:35 pm ET

Excellent job in bringing this to international audience!

sara   May 11th, 2009 8:36 pm ET


what you are doing is called "blaming the victim."
esha is not stupid, she was doing something very positive and she needs support. She isn't an illegal immigrant, she was BORN here. So please don't use this story to justify racism and intolerance against immigrants.

and you don't sound like you know much about women's rights in Iran, nor in the US.

saro   May 12th, 2009 3:33 am ET

brave souls like momeni do fight for the rights of any body including women and there are several examples like her in many nations. We need to support her in whatever way we can.

prabha ranatunga   May 12th, 2009 10:30 am ET

Sri lanka has a back bone to stand on its own feet. After seen the weapons they have made to eliminate the mankind, international coward bulls are taking useless effort to safeguard the Tamil barbarian, where who has done the most defect to innocent poor tamils. if the cnn does not have any job to intervene other than this please coun the stars, one day praha will send a bomb to your open mouth. until then please do so buy and good luck wth skyshell,

Mullai siva   May 12th, 2009 1:09 pm ET

Yes; It is going too late is the internationl commenitg wait and see
The srilanka are terrorist.
LTTE are freedom fighters and the only hope
for the tamil people.

Smurphgirl   May 12th, 2009 4:24 pm ET

How absurd! I would think being arrested and detained would qualiify as a "requirement" for say that even if she returned now she would fail to meet the requirements shows absurd adhearance to stupid rules and a level of insensitivity that boggles the mind.

Bala Sunderam   May 14th, 2009 4:13 am ET


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