The judge presiding over the case of imprisoned Iranian-American gallery owners Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Neyssari has deliberately imposed an extraordinarily heavy bail to prevent them from being released pending their appeal, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
Karan’s son, Cyrus Vafadari, told CHRI on February 2, 2018, that Judge Abolqasem Salavati is demanding 100 billion tomans ($27 million USD) bail for the couple—50 billion tomans ($13.5 million) each for his father and Afarin Neyssari.
Vafadari’s son said that the family had “gone through a lot to pull together the bail” for Afarin, but when they came to post bail for her, Judge Salavati would not accept it, saying, “If I wanted her free, I wouldn’t have set [the bail] so high.”
“That left us wondering, if he didn’t plan to release her, why did he set any bail at all?” Cyrus said. “It seems that the judge has violated many laws,” he added.
Throughout the case, the couple have been subjected to blatant violations and denials of due process.
Judge Salavati refused to accept the imprisoned couple’s own lawyers and forced them to accept state-approved counsel, condemned Karan Vafadari and his wife to 27-year and 16-year prison sentences each respectively, in addition to the confiscation of their assets—disproportionately harsh sentences—and then acknowledged a huge bail was set in order to keep the couple in prison.
Refusing to release Afarin after her bail was met by the family is yet another violation this couple has been subjected to by a judiciary acting with complete disregard for the law.
Vafadari belongs to a prominent Zoroastrian family known in Tehran for their endowment to the city’s Firoozgar Hospital. Recognized in the Constitution, followers of the ancient, pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith have lived in Iran for thousands of years but are subject to discrimination.
In a letter from Evin Prison Vafadari denounced the “unjust and tyrannical” 27-year prison sentence he and his wife were issued. The charges against Vafadari and Neyssari (who has US permanent residency) have not been officially publicized. But in a letter dated January 21, 2018, Vafadari said he was sentenced “last week” at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran for being a Zoroastrian dual national.
“The court has granted me the honor of being the first Iranian to be convicted under Article 989 of the Civil Penal Code… It means my wife and me, and every one of you dual national Zoroastrians who returned to your country to invest in the homeland you love are always going to be in danger of losing your assets and being forced to leave the country,” wrote Vafadari.
According to Article 989: “In case any Iranian subject acquired foreign nationality after the solar year 1280 (1901-1902) without the observance of the provisions of law, his foreign nationality will be considered null and void and he will be regarded as an Iranian subject. Nevertheless, all his landed properties will be sold under the supervision of the local public prosecutor and the proceeds will be paid to him after the deduction of the expenses of sale.”
The law also exempts these dual nationals from running for public office.
“Unfortunately, my international activities [in the art world] raised the suspicions of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization,” added Vafadari. “Fortunately, the initial, baseless security accusations that led to our arrest were dropped, but our gallery, office, warehouses and home remained locked and our cars, computers and documents were confiscated, followed by accusations and interrogations that indicated a deeper plot.”
Vafadari wrote that his sentence, issued at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran by the notoriously hardline Judge Salavati, includes 124 lashes and a fine of nine billion rials ($243,000 USD).
“Being a dual national is no longer a source of pride but a liability that could lead to your prosecution under the obsolete Article 989,” added Vafadari, who lives in Tehran with Neyssari.
Iranian attorney Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee told CHRI on January 30 that Article 989 only applies to individuals who have renounced their Iranian nationality. Vafadari and Neyssari have not renounced their citizenship.
“In my 25 years of experience I have never encountered a single such case,” said Tabatabaee.