It’s been 100, 101, 102 days, counts Sorayya Shahtahmasebi Hadizadeh. By late August, she had seen her husband only a few times, always briefly and never alone, since he was arrested. “We cry a lot because his health is very bad and his life is in real danger,” she says.
Mohammad Hadi Hadizadeh Yazdi is a nuclear physicist at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Iran, about 800 kilometers east of the capital city of Tehran. Recently, he had been involved in the now halting efforts to set up SESAME, a synchrotron light source in the Middle East.
Arrested on 12 May, Hadizadeh was one of several dozen people—mostly writers, journalists, academics, and other intellectuals—detained because of their association with liberal groups such as Nehzat-e Azadi (the Iran Freedom Movement). The judiciary, which arrested them, claims that Nehzat-e Azadi planned to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Nehzat-e Azadi descends from the movement that, in 1951, brought to power the democratic nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh, which was overthrown two years later by the Shah in a CIA-backed coup d’état. In 1979, the group was at the forefront of the Islamic revolution. Like the majority of Iranians, the Islamic, pro-democracy group supports President Mohammad Khatami, who was reelected in a landslide on 8 June. There was widespread anticipation that Hadizadeh and the others would be freed after the election, but religious conservatives, not the president, control the judiciary.
Details about Hadizadeh’s situation are scant. But it’s not merely support for democracy that got him into trouble, says one Iranian physicist. “You don’t get arrested just for holding these views. Most people in Iran would agree with them—my views on freedom and democracy are more extreme than Hadizadeh’s. The hard-liners only go after the most visible people.” As a distinguished professor, he adds, Hadizadeh attracted attention for his sympathies to Nehzat-e Azadi.
No formal charges have been brought against Hadizadeh, who is 54 years old. He had open-heart surgery 10 years ago and, since his arrest, he has developed diabetes and other health problems, according to his wife. He has spent his imprisonment mostly in solitary confinement at an unknown location.
Iran’s physical society, its science ministry, and science academies, human rights organizations, and individual scientists from around the world have been pleading with Iranian authorities for Hadizadeh’s release. Brazilian physicist Aldo Craievich, for example, canceled a trip to Iran in July, writing to Reza Mansouri, who heads the Physical Society of Iran, “I presently feel that I should not visit your country while Prof. Hadizadeh, a serious scientist that I appreciate and the person that invited me, is under arrest.” And more than two dozen Nobel laureates signed a private letter to Khatami urging that Hadizadeh be released on humanitarian grounds.
In late August, a few of the other detainees were released, raising hopes that Hadizadeh would be freed soon too. “Every moment we are expecting him to ring us,” says Hadizadeh’s wife. “But there is nothing yet.”