Members of the University community have joined in efforts seeking the release of Middle East Studies scholar Haleh Esfandiari, imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage and endangering Iran’s national security. Esfandiari taught Persian language and literature as a lecturer at Princeton from 1980 to 1994.

Esfandiari is director of the Middle East Program at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Born in Iran, she has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. She traveled to Iran in December to visit her 93-year-old mother; while on her way to the airport to return to America, she was robbed of her passports at knifepoint. She subsequently underwent a series of interrogations that centered on her work at the Wilson Center, according to a statement by the center, and she was jailed at Evin Prison on May 8.

President Tilghman wrote a letter May 21 to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressing her “profound concern” over the confinement of Esfandiari, who she said “earned the gratitude of a generation of students in whom she instilled love of the Persian language and of Iranian culture.”

The following week, 36 former students of Esfandiari at Princeton sent a letter to Ahmadinejad and to Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seeking her release and stating that “her entire career as a scholar and a teacher has been spent building bridges of understanding between Americans and Iranians.”

President Bush called for the immediate release of Esfandiari and three other American citizens detained in Iran, and U.S. scholars announced boycotts of the country. More information can be found on the Web at