U.S. academic held in Iran
• Dual American-Iranian citizen held for "crimes against national security"
• Haleh Esfandiari is a program director based in Washington
• Esfandiari was visiting her mother and lost her passports
• She could face the death penalty if convicted
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- A U.S.-based academic -- and dual American-Iranian citizen -- is being investigated for "crimes against national security" after she was arrested in Tehran last week by the Intelligence Ministry, Iranian judiciary officials said Tuesday.
Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the U.S. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Middle East program, was arrested on May 8 and taken to Tehran's Evin prison, the center and her family said last week.
The arrest took place at a time of rising tension between Washington and Tehran over Iran's disputed nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at making atom bombs, and the conflict in Iraq.
"She is right now under the authority of the Intelligence Ministry," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters.
"Her crime is security issues, investigations over crimes against security are still going on," he said.
Jamshidi did not give details but a judiciary source later told Reuters Esfandiari was suspected of "crimes against national security," a broad legal term covering acts deemed to endanger the stability of the Islamic state.
Terrorism, spying, political unrest and assassination attempts are examples of crimes falling within this category under Iranian law. The charge could carry the death sentence.
The U.S. State Department has condemned the arrest of Esfandiari, who has dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, and said she was among a number of U.S.-Iranians being detained by Tehran.
Last week's statement from the center and her family also said she needed medical attention but did not say why.
Esfandiari flew to Tehran in December to visit her mother. As she drove to the airport to catch a flight back she was robbed of her belongings, including her passports, it said.
She applied for replacement Iranian travel documents and was interviewed by the Intelligence Ministry. There then followed weeks of interrogations focusing on her work for the center, it said.
The center's president, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, sent a letter in February to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad explaining the work of the organization and seeking his help in securing Esfandiari's return to the United States.
Hamilton was the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group which last year issued recommendations for ending the violence in Iraq, including engaging with longtime U.S. foe Iran.
The center's Middle East program focuses on the political, social and economic developments in the region and examines U.S. interests in the region and the threat of terrorism.
U.S. officials believe Tehran may also be holding former FBI official Robert Levinson, who went missing early in March while on a visit to the Iranian island of Kish. Iran has denied this.
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