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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Filed under: CNN Exclusive

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