CHSS Convocation Speakers Esfandiari, Bakhash to Address Human Rights

Posted: May 12, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Brooke Braun

From Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial speaking engagement at Columbia University to the summer Olympics set to begin in Beijing, discussion about human rights has been an enduring and powerful presence in the news this year, despite the country’s preoccupation with the presidential election.

On Thursday, May 15, the convocation address at the undergraduate ceremony for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) will bring the human rights discussion to the Patriot Center.

Before more than 2,000 graduating students and their families, Haleh Esfandiari and her husband, Shaul Bakhash, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History at Mason, will share the remarkable story of her 2007 detainment in Iran and his efforts to secure her release.

Esfandiari and Shaul Bakhash
Haleh Esfandiari and her husband, Shaul Bakhash
Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson Center-Heidi Fancher

In December 2006, Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., was visiting her 93-year-old mother in Tehran, Iran.

After being robbed and deprived of her American and Iranian passports, she was prevented from leaving the country and subjected to intensive interrogation by agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. Eventually, she was arrested and taken to Evin Prison, where she spent 105 days in solitary confinement.

Her interrogators insisted that the Wilson Center, think tanks, foundations, research centers and universities in the United States were part of an American government plan to bring about regime change in Iran.

During the many months she was detained in Iran, Esfandiari’s husband Bakhash, her Wilson Center colleagues and Wilson Center President Lee Hamilton mounted a campaign to secure her release. Influential international figures, some of the world’s major newspapers, and human rights organizations called for Esfandiari’s release.

A tireless letter-writing campaign and statements in support of Esfandiari by both Houses of Congress, Esfandiari’s former students, prominent scholars and hundreds of women in Middle Eastern countries finally paid off. In August 2007, Esfandiari was released on bail. She left Iran to be reunited with her family and friends.

Esfandiari has directed the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center since 1998. An Iranian-American, she has lived in the United States since 1980. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant, she is an expert on Middle Eastern women’s issues and Iranian affairs.

Bakhash specializes in the history of the modern Middle East with an interest in the history of Iran. He worked for many years as a journalist in Iran writing for Tehran-based Kayhan newspapers as well as the London Times, the Financial Times and the Economist.

The convocation begins at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are not required.

The conversation about human rights may continue into the evening when Stanley Katz, lecturer with the rank of professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, and president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, delivers the convocation address at the CHSS graduate ceremony in the Center for the Arts at 7 p.m.

His recent research focuses upon the relationship of civil society and constitutionalism to democracy, and upon the relationship of the United States to the international human rights regime. He is also a commentator on higher education policy.

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