Retired Concordia University professor Homa Hoodfar was only meant to be in Iran for a few weeks, but she’s now being held in a notorious Iranian prison.
Before the 65-year-old Iranian-Canadian woman could return to Canada in March, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized her passports — she holds Canadian, Iranian and Irish passports — along with a computer and iPad, and subjected her to repeated day-long interrogations about her work and research.
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On Monday, the Revolutionary Guard imprisoned her in Evin prison — a place associated with acts of torture, solitary confinement and forced confessions.
But Hoofdar’s family in Canada has no idea why the sociology and anthropology professor is being detained or what charges she may be facing.
“She’s not political, she’s not an activist,” Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, said.
Hoodfar had spent some time doing research at the country’s parliamentary library in Tehran but was primarily their on a personal visit, Ghahremani told Global News in Montreal.
“I genuinely believe that, perhaps, her predicament right now is a result of a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of what anthropological work is,” Ghahremani said of her aunt.
Hoodfar’s research, according to her niece, concerns “improving the daily lives of women” in the Middle East and Muslim countries — particularly those in impoverished or marginalized communities.
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Hoodfar moved to Canada in the early 1990s and began teaching at Concordia.
According to Concordia University’s website, Hoodfar studied economics at the University of Tehran, got a master’s degree in development studies at the University of Manchester and her Ph.D. in social anthropology at the University of Kent.
Margie Mendel, an economics professor at Concordia and Hoodfar’s friend, said Hoodfar is a “dedicated teacher and wonderful pedagogue.”
“People love her,” Mendel told Global News, adding Hoodfar worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week on her research.
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Mendel said Hoodfar isn’t “militant,” but a fervent advocate for gender equality.
“She has documented difficult situations [and] violations of women’s rights, but she has also documented, very rigorously, achievements that women are making in different contexts, through movements and so on.”
Throughout her career, Hoodfar has researched and written about a range of issues including women and politics, reproductive health policies, Islamic dress codes for women and the political context of women’s sports in the Muslim world.
She edited a book called Women’s Sport as Politics in Muslim Contexts, published in 2015.
“In Muslim majority societies sport has thus emerged as a site where women’s entanglement with politics, power, religion and resources is playing out,” she wrote in one chapter of the book.
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Her research wasn’t solely focused on Iran, but included examinations of women’s rights in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and within Canada’s Muslim community.
Despite the suggestion in media reports Hoodfar was researching the recent Iran election that saw a record 17 women win seats in parliament, her niece said that was not the case.
Following the death of her husband and her recent retirement, Hoodfar wanted to reconnect with Iran and visit family and friends, Ghahremani said.
According to Ghahremani, Hoodfar had nothing but pride in her Iranian background and Iranian culture.
“She loved the country and that’s why she wanted to go back and visit,” Ghahremani said. “She really is the last person I could imagine falling into this circumstance.”
Amanda Jelowicki contributed to this report