The U.S. is "troubled" by reports of an 18-year sentence handed down to a dual U.S.-Iranian national, a State Department official told The Foreign Desk.
"We are troubled by reports that Robin (or Reza) Shahini, a person reported to be a U.S. citizen, may have been convicted and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease arbitrary and politically-motivated detentions and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all criminal prosecutions consistent with its law and international obligations," the State Department said.
An Iranian court has sentenced a dual-citizen American Iranian man to 18 years in prison for allegedly ‘collaborating with a foreign government’ and for posts he published on his social media page, his family members told The Foreign Desk.
Gholamreza Shahini, 46, known to his friends as ‘Robin,’ and a resident of San Diego for the past 16 years, disappeared after traveling from California to Iran this past summer to visit his sick mother.
He has now been charged with blasphemy for “insulting the revered” on a Facebook page and for “collaboration with a hostile government,” referring to the United States, according to the official sentence handed to Shahini Monday in his prison cell.
“He is in shock and is asking for help,” his girlfriend, who did not want to be identified further for security purposes, said of Shahini when she spoke with him after he received the sentence.
Shahini first came under the government’s radar for his supposed participation in Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009 and a TV interview with the US’ State Department-backed Voice of America, according to the indictment originally brought against him by a Revolutionary Court.
“I’m also in shock. I just keep repeating to myself, 18 years? 18 years?” she said.
“I really didn’t expect that. I thought maybe he’d get two or three years, because he didn’t do anything. I don’t know what to say. What evidence do they have? He studied political science; Is that a crime?”
According to Shahini, in a three-hour trial, only 15 minutes was spent on his case. Judge Seyyed Mohammad Bagher Mousavi, a Revolutionary Court justice, left the bench to go pray and did paperwork for the remainder of that time, he told her.
Shahini kept an active Facebook profile in Farsi and has been a vocal critic of the country’s deplorable human rights record. The page was deleted within days of his disappearance.
The sentence represents the first known charges against a U.S. citizen since the release of four Americans by Iran in January.
The Foreign Desk has reached out to the State Department for comment on Shahini's sentence.
Shahini, whose last trip to Iran was in 2009, coinciding with the country’s Green Revolution over a contested presidential election, travelled to Gorgan, a city 250 miles northeast of Tehran in June, to spend time with his ailing mother.
Several days later, Iran’s judiciary spokesman GholamHossein Mohseni Ejei confirmed Shahini’s detention to the country’s semi-official Fars News.
According to his family, agents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard visited his mother’s home July 11 and arrested Shahini. Guards also seized his laptop and mobile phone and warned his family not to speak to the media.
Lawyers acting on his behalf said they have not yet been given access to the evidence against him.
“He’s pretty discouraged, and it is discouraging. He can’t even defend himself,” a close friend of Shahini who says she speaks to him a couple times a week told, The Foreign Desk.
“He can’t really speak openly when he calls. We can’t talk about things that can raise flags,” she said.
In August, a website with ties to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, published two photos of Shahini that were purportedly taken from his laptop or phone. The photos show him meeting with Abolhassan Banisadr, a former Iranian president living under exile in France and one with Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The website alleges that Shahini has close ties with Pahlavi’s National Council of Iran, an organization created to overthrow Iran’s theocratic dictatorship and that Shahini was sent by U.S. intelligence services to create turmoil in Iran.
The Foreign Desk cannot confirm the authenticity of the photographs.
Shanini is being held in prison in Gorgan where he is reportedly suffering from several health issues including asthma.
Guards have allegedly taken him to smoking designated areas of the prison knowing that he is asthmatic and have denied him medicine, a family member told The Foreign Desk.
The State Department confirmed in July that it was looking into Shahini’s case but declined further comment.
A surge in arrests of dual-nationals by Iran has followed last year’s July nuclear accords in what experts suggest is political jostling by hardliners looking for increased leverage with the West.
In January, the State Dept. strengthened its Iran travel warning just days after the release of four Americans citing a specific warning for dual citizens.
Iran has denied any suggestions of kidnapping or involvement with his disappearance.
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