Colleagues: “We’re still in a state of shock” about release from Iranian prison
After 16 weeks of imprisonment in Iran, Concordia professor Homa Hoodfar landed in Oman on Monday a free woman. Hoodfar spent 112 days in a Tehran jail. While the charges laid against Hoodfar and the reason for her release are yet unknown, family and friends, including her colleague from Concordia’s School of Public Affairs, Marguerite Mendell, are just happy for her freedom.
“We’re still in a state of shock,” said Mendell at a press conference on Monday.
“We didn’t expect this news at all,” added Marc Lafrance, a Concordia assistant professor from the sociology and anthropology department. “I can’t find the words to describe my joy.”
Photos of the Canadian-Iranian professor have been shared on social media and while Mendell said Hoodfar seems frail and thin, seeing her able to walk on her own is a positive sign. Hoodfar, who is 65 years old, has a degenerative neurological disorder. She was reportedly not receiving the proper medication during her imprisonment.
Mendell said Hoodfar was asked to write about and explain her research after her first arrest and leading up to her incarceration. Her academic work has focused on gender and sexuality in Islam. However, Mendell said Hoodfar’s trip to Iran was for personal reasons and to conduct some archival work.
“She’s an ethnographer, and an anthropologist … her work is not political,” said Mendell.
Hoodfar’s colleagues also said she underwent interrogations that lasted eight or nine hours at a time and she reportedly spent time in solitary confinement—with no access to a lawyer.
Kimberly Manning, principal at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, expressed her joy of Hoodfar’s release by taking off her “#FreeHoma” pin for good.
“I’m very happy to say I get to take it off today,” she said during the press conference. “The fact that Homa has been a real champion for understanding the lives of women is not without note on this moment. This is something that so many people from so many diverse walks of life rallied to recognize and to call for her freedom on that basis.”
Those rallying for Hoodfar included help from the embassies of Oman, Italy and Switzerland. Canada ended diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012. In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked those diplomats, adding they were “instrumental in helping secure Dr. Hoodfar’s release.”
At a Board of Governors meeting on Monday, Concordia University President Alan Shepard said he is super thrilled that Hoodfar is on her way home. “We did our best both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras and once she’s had the chance to settle back and get some rest … I’ll be very interested to get any lessons she has [for] us in case we ever find ourselves in this situation again or other institutions find themselves in this situation,” he said.
Protests for Hoodfar’s release happened both in Canada and abroad: in Montreal, more than 100 people gathered on Sept. 21 to bring attention to her imprisonment; in Dublin, Concordia Irish Studies professor Emer O’Toole helped organize a protest outside the Iranian embassy on Sept. 7.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so much relief in my life,” said Hayley Lewis, Concordia’s demonstration organizer, and former student of Hoodfar. “I am so, so happy that Homa is coming home to us.”
“I think that her release is excellent news. In terms of what contributed to it—I don’t really have any inside information—but I think that definitely the fact that there’s a wide range in show of support from Canadians across the country and particularly the Concordia community, it definitely contributed positively to what happened,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec and a speaker at Concordia’s demonstration for Homa.
However, Lewis said there is still a lot of work to be done on behalf of those who are still imprisoned and equally deserve freedom. “That being said, I’m overjoyed by Homa’s release and so grateful that we can all continue to benefit from her presence in our lives and communities,” she said.
While it’s unclear when Hoodfar will return to Canada, or where she will be medically examined, her niece, Amanda Ghahremani, flew to Oman to meet her.
With files from Savanna Craig and Cristina Sanza