The founding director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program recounts her absurdist imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
For more than 100 days in 2007, Iranian-American scholar Esfandiari (Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran’s Islamic Revolution, 1997), a resident of Washington, D.C., was incarcerated in solitary confinement on bizarre, paranoid charges of aiding the American government in plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic. While visiting her mother in Tehran during the holidays, the author was robbed in a taxi, then detained in her mother’s home for months before being hauled off to prison. Apparently she was on the watch list of the fearsome Ministry of Intelligence, who grilled her about seemingly irrelevant information, especially two particularly irritating items: her marriage to a Jew and her job organizing seminars, lectures and conferences for the Middle East program at the Wilson Center. The interrogations were conducted over eight months by two different but equally odious men who tried to wear down the disciplined prisoner, catch her in inconsistencies and get her to admit that the Wilson Center was an agency of the American government. Despite her imprisonment, however, she was treated relatively respectfully, given time for daily walks on the rooftop terrace and served the same food as that given to the prison guards. As part of her release, she was coerced into reading a televised “confession.” In addition to the story of her imprisonment and her personal history, Esfandiari provides a brief history of Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the United States.
Though the author left her home country after the 1979 revolution, the details of her incarceration shed light on the continued troubling aspects of this regime.