Satirist Keyomars Marzban Arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Held Incommunicado, No Access to Lawyer
Keyomars Marzban, a 26-year-old satirist, has been held incommunicado in Tehran’s Evin Prison and without access to counsel since the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested him on August 26, 2018.
“When he left Iran in 2009, he lived in Malaysia for a few years as well as a few months in the Republic of Georgia. He never traveled to the US,” a source with knowledge of Marzban’s case told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on September 19, 2018.
The sources that provided testimony for this report requested anonymity for security reasons.
“You couldn’t find a more harmless and gentle person than Keyomars to frame?” tweeted fellow Iranian satirist Sharagim Zand on September 17.
“[President Hassan] Rouhani and his supporters say Iranian expats should come back to the country and work here but what they want is an easy target to prey on and fabricate charges against him in another putrid spectacle by the security intelligence establishment,” added Zand.
Marzban is not a dual citizen. He did not experience any problems upon first returning to Iran about a year ago to visit his ailing grandmother.
On September 12, a website affiliated with the IRGC, Edalatkhahan (Justice Seekers), claimed Marzban had traveled to the US with the intention of launching an anti-Iranian media outlet “aimed at inflaming the people and creating social divisions.”
Edalatkhahan accused Marzban of working with Freedom House, a human rights organization based in Washington, DC, to attract Iranian artists and celebrities towards opposition causes.
Agents of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization took Marzban into custody at his home on August 26 and confiscated his laptop, mobile phone and other personal belongings. Since then he has made only one brief phone call to his family without mentioning his arrest, according to the source.
“Keyomars loves to write and although he’s very young, he has matured a lot in recent years,” one of his friends told CHRI. “He has no political sympathies toward any individual or political group and his main passion is writing and being involved in literary activities.”
“We are shocked he has been arrested,” added his friend.
On April 17, Marzban gave an interview to the state-funded Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about his private writing classes and his experiences abroad.
“Iranians have very limited hopes and dreams,” he said. “Their biggest dream is for the economic problems to be solved and all they think about is their daily affairs. But when I asked people in other countries about this, I realized that imagination and following your dreams is a very important thing.”
Marzban began his artistic career making short films. While living in Malaysia, he hosted a comedy podcast called “Sangetab Radio” (Twisted Stone Radio) and in 2014 he published a book of short stories titled Kham Bodam Pokhteh Shodam Balkeh Pasandideh Shodam (I was Raw, I Became Ripe and Pleasant).
Satirist Mahmoud Farjami, who lives in exile in Europe, tweeted: “They arrested Keyomars Marzban? For what crime exactly? ‘Misleading’ celebrities? Those who accuse him of such ridiculous things, are they retarded? I won’t ask if they’ve got a conscience… (By the way, Keyomars has never traveled to the US and he’s only twenty-something.)”
Iranian security forces have accused numerous citizens with links to foreign countries of spying with scant evidence, ultimately getting them locked up for years on trumped-up national security charges.
In March 2018, agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry arrested Iranian citizen and British Council employee Aras Amiri and held her for two months without access to a lawyer.
At least 12 dual and foreign nationals, as well as foreign permanent residents, were imprisoned in Iran as of September 2018 according to research by CHRI.