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Homa Hoodfar, a Montreal-based university professor, is being held in an Iranian jail.

Amanda Ghahremani/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Canadian-Iranian journalist who suffered the same plight as a Montreal academic currently jailed in Iran has some advice for her supporters and the federal government: speak out early and often.

Heaping pressure on the Iranian government is the only way to secure freedom in cases like that of retired Concordia University professor Homa Hoodfar, Maziar Bahari told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

"You need to publicize these cases as soon as possible and put pressure on the Iranian officials as soon as possible," he said from London.

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Bahari speaks from experience: the journalist and filmmaker was detained in June 2009 and was held for 118 days without charge at Tehran's infamous Evin prison, where Hoodfar is being held.

Iran's semi-official ISNA and Tasnim news agencies reported Monday that Hoodfar, 65, has been indicted on charges, but her family and Canadian officials said they haven't been able to corroborate that information.

The reports quoted Tehran's prosecutor as saying Hoodfar was among three dual nationals and a foreigner who had been charged. The four are all believed to have been detained by hardliners in Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

It's clear to Bahari that Hoodfar and others are being used as trading chips.

"Arresting dual national Iranians, especially those from United Kingdom, United States and Canada, can have different advantages for the Revolutionary Guard or those who arrest them," he said.

"These people can be treated as assets — they can be used as bargaining chips in Iran's relations with other countries."

Hoodfar is an anthropologist who has conducted research on Muslim women in various regions of the world.

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Her family said she travelled to Iran in February to see family and conduct academic research.

She was first arrested in March just before she was expected to return to Canada and was then released on bail.

Hoodfar was rearrested in June and the family said late last month the Iranian probe centred on her "dabbling in feminism and security matters."

Bahari said there is a method to the Revolutionary Guard's actions.

"What they're (Iranian officials) doing is teaching the general population a lesson and especially Iranians in diaspora a lesson by making an example of these few dual national Iranians to scare the larger population," Bahari said.

Bahari's interrogators told him as much when he was detained for covering anti-government protests before he was freed on bail following intense international pressure. He was tried in absentia the following year and Bahari wrote a book about his experience.

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Hoodfar's niece, Amanda Ghahremani, said under Iranian law, once an indictment is issued, the accused is typically allowed access to a lawyer and relatives and is sometimes even granted bail.

But Ghahremani said her aunt remains in solitary confinement.

Bahari said the best option might be to apply pressure in advance of a United Nations general assembly meeting in September that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and a large delegation will attend.

Hoodfar's detention should be raised with as many Iranian officials as possible by everyone: friends, family, business leaders with ties to Iran, MPs of all stripes, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Bahari said.

Relatives are often reluctant to speak out due to threats or political pressure or fear of making things worse, he added.

"Meanwhile, it's the families of these prisoners that are going through this horrible time which is really, really awful," he said. "It's really sad to see a regime do that to its own people, to devalue its own people to assets rather than (treat them) as human beings."

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