California Grad Student Still Trapped in Iran

Momeni's friends say her arrest and the confiscation of her research materials don't make sense because she wasn't attempting to make a political statement and was not filming in public without consent, which is against Iranian law. Instead, they say, Momeni was filming intimate interviews in volunteers' homes in her quest to show Americans how stereotypes of Iranian women as weak or helpless are wrong.

"The project was more about showing the strength and courage of Iranian women," Hussain said.

"She was trying to bridge these two cultures that have not understood each other for a long time," said Momeni's thesis advisor, Professor Melissa Wall.

And Roja Bandari, a volunteer with the One Million Signatures campaign in California, said the Iranian women who are working on the project in Iran should be considered a source of pride to the country instead of a threat against it.

"They aren't doing anything covert or working to topple the Iranian government," Bandari said, adding that the grassroots movement does not contradict Iranian law.

Obama and Hope for Esha

At the beginning of her ordeal, Momeni was angry and frustrated that she couldn't go on with her life, her fiance told But, "at this point, she's sort of given up hope, but only in order to allow herself to maintain her self-dignity," Hussain said.

"She has to imagine that she is going to be there forever mentally," Hussain added, "because each day she can't wonder if she might be released tomorrow." He said Momeni fills her time by working on art projects.

Now, he and her other supporters are hopeful that the possibility of the Obama administration opening communication with Iran will create an "enticement for the regime to release her" because "[Iran] can not ask for dialogue and continue to detain people who have done nothing wrong like this," Hussain said.

Iran also has elections coming up in the summer, Hussain added, so "hopefully with the change of administration, there might also be a change of policy towards people like Esha."

Momeni's thesis advisor, Professor Wall, said that students and faculty had hoped that Momeni would be allowed to return to California over the last few weeks so that she could start a new final project and graduate with her classmates. But now, Wall said, it's going to be too late.

"It's pretty devastating for some of them," Wall said of Momeni's colleagues at the small school and in the intimate communications program. "The realization that she's not going to be graduating with them is painful."

Momeni's fiance says that hope is not lost on Momeni being allowed to return soon, but those close to her acknowledge that each passing day without her breeds disappointment and frustration.

"It's just been heartbreaking," Wall said. "This vibrant young woman in this horrible situation."

Women's Rights Advocates and Activists in Iran

Momeni's case is not isolated in Iran. On Jan. 30, three women's rights advocates were arrested in Tehran, one of whom remains in detention, according to Iran Human Rights Voice, an online group that monitors human rights violations in Iran. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that another activist, Alieh Eghdamdoust, was arrested on Jan. 31 to begin serving a three-year sentence for participating in a 2006 protest in Haft Tir, Square, Tehran.

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