Reformist Political Activist Turned Refugee Briefly Arrested Upon Return to Iran
A reformist political activist who fled Iran in 2011 after years of being harassed by the Intelligence Ministry was summoned to the Revolutionary Court in Evin Prison upon returning to the country.
A source close to Sedigheh Vasmaghi, who had been sentenced to prison in absentia, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that she was detained for a few hours by Intelligence Ministry agents at Tehran’s international airport on October 15, 2017, and told to return after her case was processed.
Saham News, an opposition website, claimed Vasmaghi, a former Tehran City Council member, was released because of her “physical condition;” she is clinically blind.
Vasmaghi, who was targeted by the Intelligence Ministry while it was under the authority of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13), wrote a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on October 22, 2016, expressing her wish to return to Iran.
“After enduring five years in exile with my loyal husband, we intend to return to our home,” wrote Vasmaghi in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CHRI.
“In the fifth and sixth decades of our lives, we are not at an age where we want to suffer in exile,” she wrote. “It will also be difficult for me to go to prison, given my physical condition, especially my extremely weak eyesight.”
“However, I understand that the current ruling establishment has a policy of making the people who return home sorry—a policy that has denied our freedom and forced us to choose between silence, exile, or prison,” she added.
Vasmaghi explained that the Intelligence Ministry began harassing her in 2008 and intensified its actions, including issuing threats intended to silence her, in 2010, to the point where “I could not do anything in public or at academic gatherings, or even in private settings.”
“The ministry wanted me to be quiet, not to publish my poems, not to speak or write about injustice and corruption,” she wrote.
Before being elected as a reformist member of Tehran’s first city council in 1998, Vasmaghi was an associate professor in theology at Tehran University. The author and poet also wrote political columns for the moderate Ettela’at newspaper and Soroush magazine.
In 2011, Vasmaghi moved to Germany, where she became a guest lecturer in Islamic studies at Georg-August University in Göttingen. She also engaged in academic collaborations with Uppsala University in Sweden.
After she left, Intelligence Ministry agents raided her home and office and confiscated her personal belongings.
In 2014, Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced her in absentia to five years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” a charge brought by the Intelligence Ministry.