A San Diego man with dual American-Iranian citizenship was arrested and imprisoned after returning to his home country to visit his ailing mother.
Reza “Robin” Shahini, who arrived in Iran in May, is the third U.S. citizen to be arrested in recent months by Iran's hard-line Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the seventh dual-national arrested in Iran within the past five months, The Washington Post reported. The others include citizens of Canada, the U.K. and France.
On July 27, the U.S. Department of State told Reuters that officials are aware of Shahini's arrest and are looking into the matter, but wouldn't answer specific questions. Iran confirmed it had arrested an Iranian-American without mentioning Shahini by name and without specifying the crimes he's accused of, the news agency reported.
However, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), quoting a source "close to the family," says Revolutionary Guards accused Shahini of "acting against national security." The source said the Revolutionary Guards did not say how Shahini endangered Iranian security, and advised the family to keep quiet.
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The non-profit, which is based in New York City, said Shahini was arrested in Gorgan, about 255 miles east of the Iranian capital of Tehran.
“Around 10 p.m. on July 12 several individuals entered the home of Robin’s father in Gorgan," the International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran said. "They presented a piece of paper that appeared to be from the prosecutor’s office. Then they searched the house and confiscated Robin’s personal belongings, including his mobile phone and computer."
Shahini, who had purchased a return ticket dated July 20, has not been given access to a lawyer, the non-profit said. He hasn't been allowed to make phone calls, and his family said they don't know where Iranian authorities are holding him.
Before Shahini left, he carefully combed through his social media accounts and deleted anything -- even years-old posts -- about Iran, or anything that could be construed as critical of the Iranian regime. Although Shahini didn't remark on the political situation in his family's home country, he had made earlier posts critical of Iran's human rights record, ICHRI said.
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“Robin was not involved in political activities and we don’t know why he has been arrested based on such an accusation," the source told the non-profit. "He was only interested in the subject of peace and justice and he made comments on social media about human rights issues not just about Iran, but about other countries as well."
Experts on Iranian government said the trend of arresting regular people, including those with dual citizenship, is an attempt by Iran's hard-liners to undermine President Hassan Rouhani, who has encouraged Iranian expats to return to the country and promised better cooperation with Western powers.
“People with a high profile aren’t traveling to Iran anymore,” Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, told The Washington Post. “So if you want to keep people afraid, you have to go after people who don’t have high profiles.”
Some of the prisoners are kept as bargaining chips during negotiations with countries like the U.S. and U.K., according to former prisoners and diplomats who spoke to Reuters.
Shahini, 47, immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 and had visited Iran several times before 2008 without incident, ICHRI said.
At a July 22 press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry would not take questions about Shahini's status or U.S. efforts to free him, the non-profit said.