Sunday, 15 March 2009

IREX: Statement Requesting the Release of Silva Harotonian

From W. Robert Pearson, IREX President

On June 26, 2008, IREX employee Silva Harotonian was arrested and detained by authorities in Tehran, Iran, triggering an ongoing effort to secure her safe return to her loved ones. Sadly, on January 19, Silva was sentenced to a three-year prison term in Iran on erroneous charges.

On behalf of Silva’s family and her colleagues at IREX, we respectfully request that the Islamic Republic of Iran grant her freedom. Silva, a 34-year old woman of Iranian citizenship and Armenian descent, joined IREX in late 2007 to facilitate an exchange program to enhance cooperation between Iran and the United States on maternal and child health care issues. Silva is not a medical specialist, a medical doctor, or trained in any type of medical profession.

A former church secretary at a Christian church in Armenia, Silva was employed by IREX’s office in Yerevan, Armenia to provide administrative support to the Maternal and Child Health Education and Exchange Program (MCHEEP), a modest and non-political initiative designed to benefit the citizens of both Iran and the US through the sharing of healthcare best practices. Participants in MCHEEP are public health professionals eager to improve the quality of care offered to women and children.

IREX is a nongovernmental not-for-profit organization with a 40-year history of
international academic and people-to-people exchange programs. Our work also has been highlighted by successes in Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon and Morocco. These programs included close cooperation with appropriate authorities in those countries to the mutual benefit of the United States and the people of the participating countries.

With only the best intentions, Silva joined IREX in the hope of expanding health information needed by mothers and children in both the US and Iran. She wanted to promote international goodwill and had no other objective. She had no intention of harming or threatening the government of Iran, a country she loves, or any of her fellow citizens.

Silva has appealed her conviction. Neither IREX nor Silva herself was part of any effort to work against the Iranian government or its leadership. Silva’s role as a program administrator involved explaining logistics for the two-week exchange program, translating documents between Armenian and English into Farsi, and answering telephone inquiries.
We continue to pursue all available avenues for her release. We ask that Iranian judicial, government, and religious officials offer compassion to Silva by releasing her. An act of sincere generosity in this situation will be deeply valued by Silva’s family, friends, and her IREX colleagues. Read more about Silva and consider showing your support by signing a petition calling for her release at

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