Vigil Held in Support of Detained Student in Iran
For the first hours of dark on Nov. 12 the grass in front of Oviatt library at California State University Northridge was covered in people wearing white shirts with red letters that read a simple and heartfelt message: "Please Free Esha."
The shirts, the event, and the emotions were all in support of Esha Momeni, a former Santa Monica College student and current grad student at CSUN who is being held in Iran on bail after she was arrested and kept at a political prison in Tehran.
Momeni was in Iran to do research for her thesis. On the morning of Oct.15 she was on her way to interview a 25-year-old social worker who had been involved in the country's women's movement for years. Undercover police then pulled her over for allegedly passing another vehicle illegally and proceeded to take her back to her parents' home which was searched. They then confiscated her computer as well as other footage she had gathered for her schoolwork.
Momeni was held at Evin prison in Tehran until Nov. 10, when she was released on a $200,000 bail for which her parents had to risk the deed to their family home. Momeni is being held on charges of "acting against national security" and "propagating against the system."
"We still want to call for her safe release, and her safe return back to Los Angeles, and back to CSUN," said event organizer and fellow grad student Anasa Sinagal, "so she can finish her studies, finish her degree, and graduate with us." Sinagal has been part of a large group at CSUN comprised of students and faculty that knew Momeni, and have rallied around her to raise awareness and show support for their friend.
Sinagal was quick to point out that although Momeni has been released, the worst is not yet over as the trial will still determine the fate of the student.
That feeling was more than shared at the event as friend of Momeni and additional organizer for the movement Judith Klapper described the turn out "of course we're happy to see everyone come out, but it's just such a sad event." Klapper went on to summarize the mood saying "we're still really scared."
Two musical acts graciously preceded the speakers at the event while the crowd began to grow. The first was a band called Karabel Nightlife who paused in their set to dedicate a song to Momeni. The second was a solo acoustic act called Fort King the singer of which expressed his happiness that Momeni was out of jail for the time being but added that "I think it's really sad that her family had to surrender the deed to their home for that to happen."
Once the light of day was gone the speakers began to take stage, and candles were passed out amongst the crowd who lit their wicks by touching them together, and then passing along the flame candle to candle. The stage was actually the steps of the library, and along with the speakers it hosted two large projection screens, on the left were alternating pictures of Momeni, on the right was the same red on white plea from the shirts they wore.
"Even though we call this a candlelight vigil, we would like to think of it as a celebration," said John Daquiag who acted as the master of ceremonies. "You are here tonight to get to know Esha."
The speakers all knew Momeni, and told intimate stories of her, as well as described her involvement with the group One Million Signatures Campaign. Momeni's Sister Raha Momeni addressed the crowd and praised them for their support of her loved one. She then stood with a friend who read a poem written by her sister while she was attending SMC entitled "Dear Eve," which paralleled the subjugation of women with the creation of mankind in the Bible.
One of Momeni's professors described how she felt when Momeni told her about her plans to go to Iran to do research, and how she told Momeni that it may not be a good idea to do so considering that local security may be paranoid about the filming. The professor then went on to describe how Momeni felt that Americans misunderstood Iran. She said that "Esha wanted to show that Iran's women were not helpless."
The One Million Signatures Campaign describes itself as "a peaceful grassroots movement for gender equality that has sprung from the efforts of Iranian women inside Iran." The actions of this organization are considered to be within the realm of Iranian law, however many members of it are still found to be subject to constant government pressure.
What may happen to Momeni in the coming days and weeks is uncertain. Information about her trial is limited, as many organizers and supporters for her do not know any specific details, the one obvious thing is that Momeni is absolutely missed, and her safe return is of the utmost importance to the CSUN community. Sinagal made this clear when she described the feelings of herself and other supporters saying: "We don't know what's next (for Momeni) and we want to make sure that she is back here... we don't want anyone to forget about her just because they hear that she has been released."