A 46-year-old U.S. citizen mysteriously disappeared while visiting his sick mother in Iran. Now, it's come to light that he was actually arrested and sentenced to 18 years jail time for social media posts against the Iranian government.
Gholamreza "Robin" Shahini, a U.S.-Iranian dual citizen living in San Diego, first appeared on the Iranian government's radar when he was accused of participating in the 2009 Green Revolution, a widespread protest of the allegedly rigged election that secured President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's place as ruler of the country for another four years. Foreign Desk News reports that Shahini also criticized the president during a TV interview with the U.S. State Department's series called Voice of America.
When Shahini left the U.S. to visit his dying mother in Iran, government officials seized the opportunity to arrest him on charges of treason and blasphemy. Friends and family had no idea what had happened to Shahini for several days as his phone and laptop were taken and his Facebook page was removed.
He was charged with "collaboration with a hostile government" and "insulting the revered" over Facebook posts. According to Foreign Desk News, Shahini ran a Facebook page criticizing the Iranian government for human rights violations in Farsi.
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Since his arrest, a relative alleges that he's suffered abuse. Guards have reportedly taken the 46-year-old to smoking designated areas of the prison, knowing he is asthmatic, and then denied him medicine when he has an attack.
"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," said a State Department official to Foreign Desk News. "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."
Shahini's girlfriend was also shocked by the news, saying that his sentence is an injustice.
"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?"
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In a phone call to Al jazeera, Shahini says that he will not appeal his sentence but will protest it with a hunger strike.
"I do a hunger strike - until either they free me or I die," he said.
Shahini is believed to be the first U.S. citizen charged by the Iranian government since Iran's release of four American hostages in January, according to Foreign Desk News.