On Saturday, February 6, Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of Iran’s state television Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), said that an Iranian government security agency had accused his employee, Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan, of espionage and ordered her to leave Iran. According to Mir Gholikhan, the agency in question is the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit.
In his interview with Jam Jam, state TV’s daily newspaper, Sarafraz accused the Guards of acting “ridiculously” and “illogically.” His announcement came just two days after it was revealed that executives of Press TV, Iran’s English language TV channel, had sexually harassed former news anchor Sheena Shirani for years. Shirani eventually spoke out about the ordeal after she recorded a telephone conversation between her and Press TV’s news director.
Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan was Sarafraz’s “special inspector,” tasked with monitoring the activities of state television’s various departments. She reported directly to Sarafraz and he would have relied on her to use discretion when dealing with sensitive matters. Sarafraz’s decision to come forward in her defense suggests a rift between two of the strongest institutions in Iran. Both state TV and the Revolutionary Guards operate under the direct supervision on Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, the man with the last word in the country’s military and security affairs. Both Sarafraz and the head of the Guards are assigned by the ayatollah.
Mir Gholikhan had spent five years in a US prison for smuggling night vision cameras, used by the military, into Iran. She maintains her innocence, and says that her ex-husband, Mahmoud Seif, tricked her, using her office to organize his illegal deals. “My ex husband worked for the Revolutionary Guards and provided [former President] Rafsanjani with many services,” she said.
Mir Gholikhan, who is currently in Oman, denies the charges against her and insists the Iranian government has turned its back on her despite the fact that she has remained a loyal Iranian citizen. She told IranWire that her ex-husband had lured her into illegal activities without her knowledge.
Mir Gholikhan says the Guards intelligence officers treated her appallingly. “They interrogated me for nine hours. They accused me of espionage, acting as an infiltration agent and of having illegitimate relationships.”
Mir Gholikhan also claims that she was tortured in prison in the US, but that Revolutionary Guards officials forced her to stay silent on the matter. Speaking to IranWire, she said, “People were shouting, ‘Death to America’ in the streets, but I could not complain against America, which had tortured me,” she told IranWire.
After she was released from prison and she returned to Iran, the Guards forced her to sign a statement saying she would not lodge a complaint against the United States. She later wrote a book about her ordeal, Shahrzad: A True Story. According to a source who spoke to IranWire, the Guards security agents were incensed by Mir Gholikhan’s revelations because the night vision cameras had been used by the Guards in internal and external military operations.
Despite her outrage at the way she was treated in the US, she says nothing compares to the psychological trauma she suffered at the hands of the Guards. She says she was kicked out of the country as part of a political struggle in Iran.
According to her, her situation worsened after she made a documentary about her experience in the United States and her religious beliefs in summer 2015. “A few days after I had my interview and my documentary was aired on YouTube, my laptop and my documents were stolen from my car,” Gholikhan says. She said it was suspicious that the thieves did not take any money or valuable items, both of which were also in the car. IRIB TV boss Mohammad Sarfaraz also accuses Guards intelligence agents of stealing from Mir Gholikhan.
In September 2015, the Guards summoned her. Against Sarafraz’s advice, Mir Gholikhan reported to the Guards officials.
Mir Gholikhan says that because King Qaboos, the sultan of Oman, helped secure her release from US authorities as part of a prisoner exchange in 2012, Iranian officials are implicitly accusing Oman of spying for the United States too. “Don’t you even think about pressuring Oman to deport me to Iran,” she wrote on Facebook. She threatened to reveal further information about the Guards, and warned that she was feeling suicidal.
After Mir Gholikhan’s release from prison in the United States, she returned to Iran, despite expressing fears for her life. According to Mohammad Sarafraz, security agents had actually recommended that Press TV hire Gholikhan as a public relations executive.
Later, when Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Sarafraz to head up IRIB in 2014, Sarafraz appointed Mir Gholikhan as his special inspector.
Sarafraz said the Guards had no evidence that Gholikhan had been involved in espionage. “I believe it is necessary for me to explain things,” he said, “because she has been treated illegally. But after a month no satisfactory answer — not even a piece of paper explaining their actions – has been provided.”