Iran Sentences American Citizen to 18 Years in Prison on Dubious Charges

A dual Iranian-American citizen was sentenced to 18 years in prison by Iranian authorities over the weekend on charges related to espionage and “collaborating with a hostile government,” VICE News reported Monday.

Reza Shahini, a 46-year-old from San Diego, was visiting his ailing mother in northeast Iran when he was arrested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in July.

“It was a terrifying moment, and they blindfolded me and they took me to the custody and I did not know where I was,” Shahini told VICE from Ninava jail in Gorgan. “They were interrogating me every morning, every afternoon, and I was always by myself in my cell.”

Shahini added that Iranian officials refused to reveal the evidence against him while he was being questioned. “They are all brainwashed to think that the U.S. is a hostile government. Even the judge,” he said.

“Let’s put pressure on the Iranian government so that it will not happen to another citizen. Maybe I am Iranian, but I am also American,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a separate interview after his sentencing. “I won’t stop unless I am free or die.”

According to family members, Shahini has converted to Christianity, which could compound his troubles with the Islamic Republic.

Hadi Ghaemi, the head of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told VICE that he was “shocked” at the sentence Shahini received. “That is an unprecedented sentence for that charge,” he explained, noting that the charge is reserved for individuals believed to have collaborated with countries at war with Iran.

“It’s extremely harsh. It really demonstrates that the Iranian judiciary is out of bounds,” Ghaemi said. “The charge against him does not hold ground under Iranian law, because the United States is not a hostile government according to an opinion of the Iranian Supreme Court, because Iran is not at war with it.”

Shahini is “the latest in a string of dual nationals that have been arrested on questionable charges and dealt heavy prison sentences in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal,” VICE reported. “There have been at least five known cases of dual nationals from Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. detained by Iran since the deal was signed in January.”

Last week, Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, a businessman who advocated for closer ties between the U.S. and Iran, was sentenced to ten years in prison along with his 80-year-old father. In September, Iran announced that U.S. resident Nizzar Zakka, an internet freedom activist who was invited to Iran by one of its vice-presidents, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Iran has a history of arresting individuals with dual-nationality, which it does not recognize, and subsequently denying them consular assistance. The country detained at least six such individuals in the nine months leading up to July, marking “the highest number of Iranians with dual-nationality detained at one time in recent years to have been acknowledged,” Reuters reported. Another dual-national, a former member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team, was arrested in August. Many analysts believe that Iran is “seeking concessions from the West in exchange for releasing” dual-nationals, the Associated Press wrote that month.

In Why Does Iran Keep Taking American Hostages?, published in the September 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Iran expert Ali Alfoneh described the regime’s detainment of foreign and dual-nationals as “a perfectly normal procedure and political practice in the Islamic Republic. That has been the case since the first day of the revolution and continues until today.”

[Photo: VICE News / YouTube ]