Beaten and Harassed, Dual National Serving 18-Year Prison Sentence in Iran on Hunger Strike

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Iranian-American dual citizen Reza (Robin) Shahini, currently serving an 18-year prison sentence in Gorgan Prison (about 190 miles east of Tehran), has gone on hunger strike to protest his unjust sentence.

An informed source also told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Shahini, who is currently being held in solitary confinement, has been beaten and repeatedly harassed by prison staff and inmates.

“Reza (Robin) Shahini has been on a wet hunger strike since Wednesday (February 15, 2017) to protest his conditions in prison,” said the source. “He’s protesting the lack of basic rights, the insulting treatment from prison guards, and his unfair sentence.”

“He had no other choice,” added the source. “Maybe now his voice will be heard and something will be done, but the authorities have responded by moving him to solitary confinement.”

The source continued: “On February 14 the prison staff came inside the ward to carry out an inspection. When they saw Reza’s diary, they beat him up and insulted him. They told him, ‘Do you think this is America? You think you can do whatever you like?’ and took his diary away.”

“But the diary is just one incident… Reza also gets insulted by Gorgan Prison staff because he lived in America,” said the source. “They call him names like ‘foreigner’ and ‘spy.’ He’s completely isolated and has become psychologically weak.”

“Five days after he started his hunger strike on February 15, Reza fell ill and was taken to the prison clinic where he had a short phone conversation with his family,” the source told the Campaign. “But since then we have had no news of him and the family is very worried because he suffers from asthma.”

Born in Iran, Shahini, 48, had been living in the US since 2000, settling in San Diego, California.

He travelled to Iran in May 2016 to see his family, and was arrested on July 11, just days before he was scheduled to return home.

Sources close to Shahini believe he was picked up because of his social media and blog postings on Iranian politics, and because of comments he had previously made to Western media, including in interviews with Voice of America, which is banned in Iran.

On October 15, 2016, Shahini was sentenced to 18 years in prison for “acting against national security,” “participating in protest gatherings in 2009,” “collaborating with Voice of America (VOA) television” and “insulting the sacred on Facebook” by the Revolutionary Court in Gorgan. Based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, he would become eligible for parole after serving at least nine years.

“Reza objects to the harsh 18-year sentence issued against him,” said the source. “All the charges against him are based on his writings on Facebook or his blog.”

“Why should he be punished for 18 years for his personal views?” added the source. “Why did the judge ignore him and his lawyer’s explanations? And why hasn’t his appeal hearing been held yet?”

In October 2016, an informed source told the Campaign that Shahini had not engaged in any political activism since 2011 and that he had travelled to Iran in May 2016 to visit his family believing he had no reason to fear for his safety.

“All the accusations against Reza were based on his writings and photos posted on his Facebook page, as well as his interviews with Voice of America several years ago, and a couple of other articles in the IranGlobal and Khodnevis websites,” said the source.

“For instance, he posted photos on Facebook showing people celebrating and protesting before and after the (contested) 2009 presidential election,” added the source. “He also posted photos of people like [former Crown Prince] Reza Pahlavi, [former President] Abolhassan Banisadr and [political commentator in exile] Akbar Ganji…”

“But after 2011, he had no [political] activities and after hearing (President Hassan) Rouhani’s speeches, he thought he could return to Iran and visit his family without any problems,” said the source.

The Judiciary’s ongoing imprisonment of dual nationals contradicts Rouhani’s repeated calls for expatriates to return to Iran. The growing number of arrests also reflects hardliners’ efforts to prevent the engagement with the West that the Rouhani administration has sought to encourage.

Iranian-British dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016, has been held since April 2016; Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, held since October 15, 2015 and his father, 80-year-old Bagher Namazi, held since February 2016, have both been sentenced to ten years in prison; British-Iranian Roya Saberi Nobakht, held since October 2013, has been sentenced to seven years; and Iranian-Austrian dual citizen Kamran Ghaderi, held since January 2016, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Iranian-American Karan Vafadari, held since July 2016, and Iranian-born Swedish resident Ahmadreza Jalili, held since April 2016, have not been sentenced yet.

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