The Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who vanished in 2009 while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and became embroiled in a shadowy intelligence conflict between the United States and Iran, is reportedly serving out a ten year prison sentence and is currently on hunger strike, according to the opposition-affiliated Saham News website.
The website, citing a relative of Amiri, reported that the nuclear scientist has been virtually disappeared by the government since his mysterious 2010 return to Iran, barred from visiting family and under constant interrogation.
For the past five years, Iranian and American officials have disputed each other’s accounts of Amiri’s role in Iran’s nuclear program as well as the circumstances of his alleged abduction and later resurfacing in Iran.
Amiri worked for Malek-Ashtar University of Technology, associated with Iran’s Ministry of Defense, and was referred to in the fall of 2009 by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani as a nuclear scientist. But Iran’s Foreign Minister contradicted this identification after Amiri disappeared in Mecca in the summer of 2009.
Then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused the United States of his abduction, a charge American officials denied. Reports soon surfaced that Amiri had been working at Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities near Qom and had asked for asylum.
In June 2010 there was talk that the three young American hikers arrested on the border in Iraq earlier might be exchanged for Amiri. The following month Iranian state TV aired a video in which Amiri claimed that he had escaped from American intelligence and was in hiding. Two subsequent videos followed and in mid-July 2010 Iranian officials reported that Amiri had taken refuge at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.
Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that both directions of Amiri’s mysterious travels – to the United States from Mecca and then back to Iran – had been of his own volition. At the same time the Washington Post reported that Amiri had given important information to the CIA in exchange for five million dollars, and the New York Times wrote the he had been a CIA spy inside Iran for a number of years.
Despite these allegations of having collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, Amiri returned to Tehran on July 14 of 2010. He was welcomed at the airport by family members and the Foreign Ministry Vice-President for Consular Affairs Hassan Ghashghavi and was praised by numerous Islamic Republic officials as a national hero. He appeared on a number of TV programs in which he described escaping from the clutches of American intelligence agents.
After the hero’s welcome, in the winter of 2010, reports began to emerge inside Iran about Amiri’s arrest and interrogation. A few months later these reports were confirmed by his family and Saeed Jalili, then secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who told the German weekly Der Spiegel that Amiri was being investigated by the Iranian government.
At first authorities told his family that Amiri was in protective custody to guard him against threats on his life, but now his family says that over the past four years they have been under constant pressure from the government. According to a family member, in July 13 of 2012, a military court sentenced Amiri to ten years in prison and five years of exile.
The family member told Saham News website that his family members have seen him only four times in 2012 and 2013. “It has been close to two years since we were last allowed to visit him. He has not called and we have appealed to many places. We have appealed to the office of Ayatollah Khamenei and the office of Mr. Larijani. Last week we went to the Defense Ministry and told them ‘he used to work for you and you yourselves declared him a national hero. Why don’t you set him free?’ All they said was that it was a security case and had nothing to do with them.”
The family member said that on July 6 of this year, Amiri’s wife went to visit him at an Iranian court, bearing some money, clothes and fruits. But authorities refused to permit her to speak to him, and Amiri shouted to his wife as he was being led away that he was on hunger strike at Jay Barracks.
Afterwards, the relative said, family members went to Jay Barracks and asked to see him, but prison authorities gathered about and threatened the with arrest. Policemen soon showed up, according to the relative, and pushed them into a van.
“They told us that we were going to be arrested, but then they let us out on the freeway and left.”
These recent developments only serve to further muddle the long saga of Shahram Amiri, whose past remains shrouded in mystery. While the Islamic Republic has been publicly committed to casting him as a national hero, his detention and clandestine sentencing suggest that Iranian officials believed he collaborated with American intelligence to some extent.
The real truth, whatever it may be, seems of little use to Amiri himself, who has emerged as one of the clear-cut losers of the Iranian nuclear program.