Iran charges Iranian-American academic |

Iran charges Iranian-American academic

TEHRAN, Iran – A jailed Iranian-American academic was charged Monday with setting up a network to overthrow the Islamic establishment, the government announced.Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, has been held at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison since early May.An Intelligence Ministry statement read on state TV said she and the Wilson Center were conspiring 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,” the ministry said.Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, said an Intelligence Ministry statement that he received did not indicate that his wife had been formally charged.In detailing the allegation against Esfandiari for the first time, however, the Intelligence Ministry was effectively charging her.Bakhash also denied the allegations against his wife.”Any implication that my wife was involved in a plan in a revolution – soft or otherwise – is totally without foundation,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Maryland.Sharon McCarter, a spokeswoman for the Wilson Center, also called Iran’s claims untrue.Esfandiari came to Iran in December to visit her 93-year-old mother. Later that month, she was prevented from leaving the country when three masked men with knives stole her luggage and passport as she headed to the airport, according to the Wilson Center. In the weeks before her arrest, she was called in for questioning daily on her activities, the center said.Iran has stepped up accusations that the United States trying to use internal critics to destabilize the government. Tensions have mounted between the two countries over Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. allegations that the Iranians have been supporting armed groups in Iraq.President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardline government has also increased restrictions on local non-governmental organizations, particularly women’s rights groups and other critics.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.”It was not immediately clear when Esfandiari will stand trial or if the trial will be public.The Intelligence Ministry also accused the Soros Foundation, a New York-based group that promotes democracy, of being involved in the network. Iran’s secret services claimed other unidentified American institutions were working with U.S. intelligence agencies to target other countries, state TV said.A telephone message left with the Soros Foundation was not immediately returned.Esfandiari, who has been living in the U.S. since 1980, has for years brought prominent Iranians to Washington to talk about the situation in Iran. Some have subsequently been detained and questioned back home.Her defenders in the U.S. say some of those she brought to Washington were supporters of the Iranian government who sought to explain Iran’s stance to Americans.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has demanded Esfandiari’s immediate release.Other Iranian-Americans have also been prohibited from leaving Iran in recent months, including journalist Parnaz Azima, who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda. Another American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, disappeared in March after going to Iran’s resort island of Kish, and his whereabouts are unknown.The Wilson Center is a nonpartisan institution established by Congress in 1968 and funded through private and public funds, according to its Web site. It says its Middle East program focuses on several areas, including “analysis of internal domestic and social developments in Iran; the aspiration of the younger generation for reform and expansion of individual liberties.”—-On the

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