IranWire has learned that at least two more dual nationals are being held in prisons in the Islamic Republic. Revolutionary Guards arrested Iranian-American Akbar Lakestani on September 28, and news has emerged that Farhad Erfani, an Iranian-Swedish dual national, has been in jail since 2017 on charges of endangering national security.
Abdolhossein Erfani Khaneghahi, known as Farhad Erfani, is a writer and poet who has traveled to Iran many times to visit his family. But during his last visit in late 2017, he was arrested at the airport as he was leaving Iran. He was sentenced to three years in prison on national security-related charges in connection with books and online articles he had published. Erfani, his wife and his daughter have been residents of Sweden since 1997.
“Most of the evidence against him was gathered from Nekbat [“Calamity” or “Misery”], a memoir of his years in prison in the early 1980s,” former political prisoner Mehdi Fartoosi told IranWire. Fartoosi, who served time at Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison, left Iran after serving his sentence. “Erfani was a prisoner at Evin from 1981 to 1983 and left for Sweden after his release.”
Mehdi Fartoosi told IranWire that Erfani’s request for parole was rejected in mid-September, even though he qualified for parole under the law. Fartoosi was Erfani’s cellmate at Vakilabad Prison and says that he is suffering from serious depression.
Michael White, an American citizen and a US Navy veteran, is also currently serving a 10-year prison sentence at Vakilabad Prison. White’s imprisonment in Mashhad was first reported by Ivar Farhadi, a political prisoner, in an interview with IranWire after his release from Vakilabad Prison. It is not clear how many foreigners, dual nationals and people with residency in foreign countries are currently being held in Vakilabad and in other Iranian prisons, and whose arrests have not been reported in the media because their families have remained silent out of fear of the consequences if they talk.
Farhad Erfani is the second Swedish resident to have been imprisoned in Iran. Ahmad Reza Jalali, an Iranian physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief and a permanent resident of Sweden, was arrested on April 24, 2016, just three days before he was to return home after visiting Iran at the invitation of Tehran University. In October 2017 he was sentenced to death on charges of spying and working for Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service. Jalali has repeatedly denied these charges and has said that his confessions were extracted under torture.
Farhad Erfani’s case has been less reported. After his arrest in late 2017 he was sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison, but he was eventually transferred to Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison. The original complaint against Erfani came from Hasan Heydari, Mashhad’s Assistant Prosecutor, so he was sent to that city to be tried there.
Two months after his arrest, the examining magistrate set a bail of 500 million tomans ($37,000), pending the court’s verdict, but soon the bail was increased to 600 million tomans ($44,5000). Then the prosecutor told his family that he had changed his mind and, because of “security concerns,” he was not going to agree to release Erfani on bail.
According to Mehdi Fartoosi, Farhad Erfani was charged with “insulting the sacred,” “agitating the public mind” and “propaganda against the regime” based on his writing, which has been published in book form in Sweden as well as online. In spring 2018, Erfani was tried at Branch 4 of Mashhad’s Revolutionary Court and was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes. Branch 35 of the Revolutionary Court of Appeals reduced his prison sentence to three years but upheld the sentence of flogging.
Pleading Guilty Because of Threats to his Family
According to Mehdi Fartoosi, Erfani was forced to plead guilty to charges against him. “They threatened Farhad that if he did not plead guilty, his family in Sweden would be in danger,” Fartoosi told IranWire. “Farhad’s young daughter lives in Sweden. They even told him not to inform his family about his situation and that is why his arrest was not reported for quite a while. After I was released and went over the news, I was really surprised that there was no news about him.”
He says that Erfani has had a difficult time in Vakilabad Prison. “He refused to take part in congregational prayers in prison and encouraged other inmates to do the same, so they transferred him from Ward 5 to Ward 104, a ward that has extremely poor conditions,” he said. “It is very small and overflowing with inmates. For a while, they made him sleep outside the lavatory and, later, on the stairway. In fact, he would give a pack of cigarettes to prisoners so that they would make him room on the stairway so he could sleep there. Fortunately he was transferred to Ward 4 after some time but he was still in a very bad mental and physical condition after he was transferred.”
Fartoosi says that the 74 lashes were administered to him shortly after his verdict was issued. “Unfortunately, he did not have anybody to follow up on what he needed to be done and he still does not,” he says. “His wife and his only daughter are in Sweden and other members of his family who live in Tehran are afraid to do anything or talk to the media.”
Farhad Erfani asked for parole through his lawyer, but Branch 35 of the Revolutionary Court of Appeals rejected his request, although he has served half of his sentence and is legally entitled to parole. He has not been given a leave of absence since his arrest.
Prison has Broken him Down
“Three months ago Farhad again asked for a leave of absence but he has yet to receive an answer,” Fartoosi said. “He cannot even call his wife. Prison officials have told him that they must be present if he makes a call outside of Iran but he has not agreed to this. Who wants somebody to listen to private conversations with his wife? He is extremely broken down, has aged a lot and is very frail.”
According to information received by IranWire, at least 18 dual nationals, foreigners and Iranian residents of foreign countries are currently being held as prisoners in Iran. Most of them have received long prison sentences on charges of “cooperation with enemy countries,” meaning the US, Britain and Israel.
Akbar Lakestani, an Iranian-American, is the latest dual national to have been arrested by the Guards.
Lakestani entered Iran through the Sarv border crossing in the province of West Azerbaijan, neighboring Turkey. Guards’ intelligence agents arrested him on September 28 and took him to a Guards’ detention center for questioning. The reason for his arrest is unknown, but some reports say he traveled via Turkey to visit his elderly and ailing mother. Lakestani is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war but in 2007, a revolutionary court arrested him and sentenced him to three years in prison for “insulting the authorities” and “propaganda against the regime.” He served part of his sentence and left Iran in 2009 while on a leave of absence.
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