Iran frees fertility expert accused of spying

Tehran: Iran has freed a fertility expert who was arrested late last year and accused of working with foreign “espionage networks,” her lawyer said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency Sunday.

“The court told me this morning that Ms Meimanat Hosseini Chavoshi was freed a few days ago,” her lawyer Mahmood Behzadi said.

Chavoshi had been accused in early December by an ultraconservative newspaper of working with foreign powers to infiltrate state institutions, but charges against her were never officially announced.

It is not immediately clear if a court session had been held or whether charges against her had just been dropped without a court sitting.

Chavoshi is listed by the University of Melbourne as working at its School of Population and Global Health, and has been published widely on Iran’s once-lauded fertility and family-planning policies.

She had been invited by the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry to speak at a conference in Tehran on ageing populations.

A retired Health Ministry employee, she was arrested while leaving Iran after the conference.

At the time of her apprehension, ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan reported the arrest of several population “activists… who, under the cover of scientific activities, had infiltrated state bodies”.

It said they manipulated statistics and handed sensitive information to Iran’s enemies as part of efforts at “cultural and social invasion”.

Iran was once considered an international success story in population control, having brought the birth rate down from seven to two per woman between the 1980s and 2002, according to World Bank figures.

Chavoshi wrote extensively about these efforts, which she described as the “fastest fall in fertility ever recorded” in a 2009 book.

But lately there has been concern both domestically and internationally that the birth rate is too low, as it was just 1.66 in 2016.

The Kayhan report said Iran’s enemies were using population experts to counter efforts to revive the birth rate by downplaying the gravity of the situation.

“There is evidence these individuals are connected to Western espionage networks,” Nasrollah Pejmanfar, a member of parliament’s cultural commission, told the newspaper.