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Iranian-American academic charged

Story Highlights

• Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari charged with trying to topple Iran's government
• Washington-based Esfandiari, 67, detained in Tehran since May 8
• Sociologist Kian Tajbakhsh also imprisoned, judiciary spokesman confirms
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran has formally charged Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari with trying to topple the government, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary told CNN on Tuesday.

Spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi also confirmed the detention of Iranian-American sociologist Kian Tajbakhsh.

Both Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are being held in Tehran's Evin prison, which houses many Iranian dissidents and political prisoners, according to their employers and Human Rights Watch.

Esfandiari, 67, who works for the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, was detained in Tehran on May 8 and Tajbakhsh was picked up two days later.

Until Tuesday, Iran had not confirmed Tajbakhsh's detention. He is being detained for questioning on suspicion of the same charges filed against Esfandiari, Jamshidi said.

Tajbakhsh, 45, is an independent consultant and urban planner employed by U.S. philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute.

They are two of at least four Iranian-Americans who have either been imprisoned or had their passports revoked in recent months.

According to Human Rights Watch, that group includes Ali Shakeri whose associates told the organization that he was detained during a recent trip to Iran.

The Iranian government has not provided any public information about his whereabouts.

The authorities have also confiscated the passport of Parnaz Azima, a reporter for the Persian-language services of Radio Free Europe who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, according to Radio Free Europe.

Like Esfandiari, Azima was in Iran to visit her ailing mother.

The prosecutor's office told her that she would be charged with working for an "institution spreading publicity against the Iranian Islamic Republic."

In addition, Robert Levinson, an American and retired FBI agent, has been missing since March 8, when he was last seen on Iran's Kish Island.

Washington's attempts to obtain information on their cases have been hampered by the lack of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorghmehr in Tehran contributed to this report.


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Haleh Esfandiari is one of four Iranian-Americans being held by Tehran.

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