CAIRO, Egypt – An American university student in Iran to visit family and research women's rights has been arrested and held in prison for more than a week, rights group Amnesty International said.
Esha Momeni, a student at California State University, Northridge, was driving on a highway in Tehran when she was stopped by authorities who said they were traffic police, the London-based Amnesty said.
Iranian officials said Momeni was arrested Oct. 15 for a traffic offense. But Amnesty said in a statement Tuesday she was taken to her family's home where her computer and other materials related to her research on the Iranian women's movement were confiscated.
Momeni, who is a member of the California branch of Change for Equality — an Iranian women's rights group — was later taken to Evin prison, the Tehran facility notorious for holding political prisoners, Amnesty said.
Her family was told by an Iranian court on Monday that her case was still being investigated, and no details would be released until after the probe was completed, Amnesty said.
Iranian judicial officials have not commented on the case and no other details were immediately available in Iran.
The university is calling for her release.
"Anyone who values knowledge and the role of academic inquiry in shedding light on the human condition should be concerned," said the university's president Jolene Koester.
In Washington, the State Department said it was aware of reports of Momeni's arrest and was seeking more information.
"We stand with all those in Iran who are working for universal human rights and justice in their countries," deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Wednesday.
Momeni was aware of the risks of her work, said Melissa Wall, her thesis adviser and director of the university's mass communications graduate program.
"We talked about the dangers," Wall said. "But in the end, it was her decision to go. She was interested in communicating to Americans a broader image of Iranian women. She has a lovely presence, she smiled a lot."
Momeni was nearing the scheduled end of her stay when she was arrested, Wall said.
Amnesty said dozens of other activists and supporters have been arrested in Iran in connection with their activities with the Change for Equality campaign, launched by Iranian women activists in September 2006.
The campaign is seeking to collect a million signatures in support of changing laws that deny women in Iran equal rights in matters such as divorce and court testimonies.
Momeni's arrest comes about a year after several Iranian-Americans accused of stirring up a revolution were released from Evin prison after spending months in detention. All four denied the accusations.