Sister Breaks the Silence Over Iranian-American and Wife Held for Three Months Without Charge or Counsel
Case fabricated “for the purpose of extortion and property seizure” says US-based family member*
December 2, 2016—Karan Vafadari, an Iranian-American national belonging to the Zoroastrian faith, and his wife Afarin Niasari, have been in detention in Tehran’s Evin Prison without public charge or access to counsel since their arrest by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization agents three months ago, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.
In a letter to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Kateh Vafadari, the US-based sister of Karan Vafadari, said that the detained couple, who run an art gallery in Tehran, had been subjected to “extortion, property seizure and national security threats,” ever since their arrest, and called for their immediate release.
“Yet another case of a dual national snatched and held without charge or access to a lawyer represents an alarming continuation of a judicial system run by intelligence agencies with no respect for the law and no accountability,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Campaign.
According to information gathered by the Campaign, the Vafadari family have visited Karan and Afarin in prison several times in the past three months. They decided not to publicize their case, hoping it would be resolved. Every week IRGC intelligence agents promised that the couple would soon go free but nothing happened. Then when the family started receiving anonymous phone threats and demands for money, the sister decided to go public and write a letter to Iran’s supreme leader.
Kateh Vafadari lives in Washington, DC. In her letter, she said her sister-in-law, Afarin Niasari, was detained by IRGC agents at Tehran airport in late July 2016 as she was about to board a flight to attend a family wedding abroad. She was told to call her husband and ask him to come to the airport. When he arrived, he, too, was arrested and both were taken to Evin Prison.
The next day, the couple were brought in handcuffs to their home where agents took down works of art hanging on walls, smashed some of them in the yard and confiscated others. The couple were then taken to their Aun Gallery where, again, some of the art work was destroyed by the agents and a number of others impounded.
Karan Vafadari, who attended Tehran’s prestigious Alborz High School, graduated from New York University in electronic engineering and management. While Karan’s three children live in the United States, Vafadari and his wife, an architect, live in Tehran’s Vanak neighborhood and manage their gallery, which has been sealed by the authorities since their arrest.
The couple were initially held at Evin Prison’s Ward 2-A, which is controlled by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, and later transferred to a group holding cell.
Without mentioning Vafadari and Niasari by name, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on August 2, 2016 that “two Iranian dual nationals” had been charged with organizing mixed-gender parties for foreign diplomats and their Iranian associates and serving alcohol at their home.
“The enemies of the Revolution are engaged in organized corruption and depravity,” Dolatabadi said, noting that “4,000 liters of alcohol” had been found at the couple’s home.
However, no mention was made that Vafadari is Zoroastrian therefore not subject to Islamic laws on alcohol and mixed gatherings. Under Iran’s Constitution, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians “are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.”
Vafadari and his wife’s arrest has caused much distress within the small Zoroastrian community. The Vafadari family are well-respected for endowing the Firouzgar Hospital to the public. In her letter to supreme leader Khamenei, Kateh Vafadari described the prosecutor’s charges as a violation against the couple’s rights, privacy and profession.
“For religious minorities, such as Zoroastrians, there is no difference between an alcoholic or herbal drink. They are both consumed at home. Zoroastrians drink alcohol at mourning ceremonies and various traditional events as well. It is a normal part of life. To conduct an arrest simply for having alcohol at home is a violation of the laws of a multi-religious society and disrespectful of the traditions of others,” Kateh Vafadari wrote.
Referring to the prosecutor’s accusation about foreign diplomats, Kateh wrote: “The guests in every gathering depend on who you work and associate with. The type of guests attending Karan and Afarin’s parties are irrelevant accusations made by the honorable prosecutor. The life and profession of ordinary people must be protected.”
She added: “In our faith and traditions, parties can be mixed. At the same time, we respect other religious traditions, such as Shiism, where men and women guests are in separate quarters.
Kateh Vafadari also complained to Khamenei that her family had received phone calls by several unknown individuals seeking to extort money. The calls have taken place after a Member of Parliament for the first time publicly mentioned the detained couple by their first name last month.
“A dual-national couple by the names Karan and Afarin have come to Iran. Go see the information about them. Go see what they have done to our country’s artists and celebrities. They filmed alcohol being served from pipes and tried to use it as blackmail. They said they would publish the clip if [the authorities] didn’t cooperate,” said Hosseinali Haji Deligani, the MP from Shahinshahr.
“Since the honorable MP from Shahinshahr made those statements, threats and blackmail by unknown individuals against our family have increased significantly,” Kateh Vafadari wrote in her letter. “In fact, the accusations made public by the honorable MP from Shahinshahr have exposed the reasons for the arrests: To fabricate a case for the purpose of extortion, property seizure and national security threats. It is very bad for Karan and Afarin to suffer like this. It is also an ugly episode for the security-judicial establishment. No one benefits for this. It will harm society.”
Responding to the MP’s allegation of the existence of a film clip showing the consumption of alcohol at Karan Vafadari’s home, Kateh Vafadari wrote: “We have film clips and recordings from various aspects of our life and work. Confiscating them is a violation of domestic privacy.”
She added that arresting the couple for having a different life-style based on their own religious traditions “does not make sense to a rational mind. These arrests, based on the statement made by the honorable Tehran prosecutor, are without foundation and against the law.”
Criticizing the destruction of works of art and the closure of Aun Gallery by the authorities, Kateh Vafadari wrote: “You cannot arrest someone or smash works of art just because you have a different taste. These works of art represent the diverse interests and wishes of different people in the city.”
*This article was slightly modified on December 2, 2016, 12:35 EST with updated information to clarify some of the details.