Imprisoned Iranian-American Art Dealer Accuses IRGC of Judicial Interference

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Karan Vafadari: “I don’t think we will be justly treated unless there is greater and more effective international pressure.”

Karan Vafadari Arrested After Obtaining Legal Order to Force IRGC to Vacate His Building”

In a new letter from Evin Prison, Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari has accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of pressuring the judiciary to impose heavy sentences on him and his wife, Afarin Neyssari.

Vafadari’s sister, Kateh Vafadari told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 5, 2018, that her brother was arrested “a few days after he got a court order to force the IRGC to vacate one of our ancestral buildings.”

“He was seeking his inheritance in an action that was completely legal but ended up being arrested,” added Kateh Vafadari, who lives in the US, in a phone interview with CHRI.

For the first time since announcing his 27-year prison sentence, Vafadari listed the exact charges he was convicted of: “collusion in plots against national security,” “storing smuggled foreign alcohol,” “possessing my father’s opium pipe,” and having 124 “inappropriate” movies, six packs of playing cards and marijuana.

“I probably won’t get out of Evin Prison before I’m 70,” wrote the 56-year-old.

“Given the IRGC’s influence over the judiciary and their determination to completely ruin our lives, I don’t think we will be justly treated unless there is greater and more effective international pressure. The simple reason is that they want to make an example of us or add us to their list of hostages,” he added.

Kateh Vafadari published her brother’s letter, dated January 20, 2018, on her personal blog on January 31.

At least 12 dual and foreign nationals and foreign permanent residents are being held in Iranian prisons. In November 2017, Reuters reported that at least 30 dual nationals had been arrested by the IRGC since the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015.

A member of the Zoroastrian minority faith, Vafadari managed the Aun Art Gallery with his wife in Tehran before being arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization on July 20, 2016.

In late January 2018, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati—known for his hardline views and imposing harsh sentences in cases involving those accused of opposing state policies—sentenced Vafadari to 27 years in prison and 124 lashes, and Neyssari to 16 years in prison and 74 lashes. They have also been fined with more than nine billion rials ($243,000 USD).

The exact breakdown of the charges against Neyssari remains unclear.

In his letter, Vafadari said the IRGC had “tried to convince Afarin to give false statements against me, to say I was a member of the Mossad and the CIA… so they could hang me.”

More excerpts from Vafadari’s letter:

– “To show how ridiculous and biased these convictions are and how they are intended to bring the highest prison sentences, it is enough for me to point out that a few months ago some of our broken handicraft pieces were studied by antique experts and if they had truly been antiques, the authorities would have sentenced us to death. That was their intention from the very beginning. I am sure this is the truth. They were looking for money transfer documents that could have been considered money laundering and interference in the country’s financial system.”

– “As innocents, we naively believed that keeping silent and avoiding interviews with the news media could provide an opportunity to resolve this issue in court, particularly after the judicial officials in Evin Prison rejected the initial espionage charges. But Judge Salavati’s ruling, which everyone believes was dictated by the IRGC, destroyed any illusions of fairness, justice, rule of law or autonomy. It’s now clear that without an active intervention, there’s no chance I will be freed in the near future or perhaps ever. Don’t forget I’m 56.”

– “Despite all the tricks and illegal tactics used during our interrogation, we were cleared of the initial charges concerning ‘espionage’ and ‘cooperation with foreign governments against Iran’s interests.’ Not even Judge Salavati could bring such baseless charges against us. But instead, we were convicted of ‘collusion in plots against national security’—another baseless charge… and to try to prove it, all they presented were our ‘feminist videos,’ ‘unacceptable visual works of art,’ and a few emails exchanged with the Prince Claus cultural fund (in Holland).”

– “Even though as a Zoroastrian I’m legally allowed to produce and consume alcohol as a religious minority, … I have been sentenced to a year and a half in prison, 74 lashes and fined about $40,000 for making wine that was for my private consumption.”

– “I was charged with ‘storing smuggled foreign alcohol’ and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $150,000 even though they were gifts from my diplomat friends.”

– “In addition, I was charged with and convicted of: 1) Keeping my father’s opium pipe in a box that I always had as a memento in my storage room. My father used it 40 years ago for treating Parkinson’s, which at the time was an unknown disease in Iran. 2) Having 124 ‘inappropriate’ CDs, 3) Having six packs of playing cards that you can buy from any peddler or gas station, 4) Having marijuana, which was found in our gardener’s house.”

– “It’s unbelievable that Afarin has been sentenced to a year in prison, 50 lashes and a monetary fine for ‘presenting and selling works of art against Islamic values.’ Those who have visited her gallery know this accusation is not true. Although, we did have some ‘inappropriate’ art in our house, which is completely legal.”

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