An Iranian-American couple has been sentenced to 16 and 27 years in prison respectively. Revolutionary Court Judge Abolghasem Salavati issued the verdict, as well as ordering the confiscation of all their properties.
The couple, gallery owners Afarin Neysari and Karan Vafadari, were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Corps on July 20, 2016. Neysari was arrested at the airport as she was about to board a plane for Italy. Shortly after, Vafadari was arrested when he arrived at Evin Prison to inquire about his wife.
The couple is well known in Iran’s art world, and because of their Tehran art gallery, Aan. Vafadari's three children, from a previous marriage, live in the United States but the couple has primarily focused their lives and work in Iran.
The news of their arrest was first confirmed on August 1, 2016, when Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi reported that a house in Tehran had been raided and two dual nationals had been arrested. He claimed that house had been host to mixed-sex parties for a number of foreign diplomats and Iranians with links to them. He also claimed that the security agents had discovered 4,000 liters of alcoholic beverages, illegal under the laws of the Islamic republic.
In November 2016, Karan Vafadari’s sister Kateh Vafadari, who lives in the US, denied the charges against her brother and her sister-in-law. Before their arrest, she wrote to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, pointing out that the couple had been threatened and had money extorted from them.
On November 15, 2016, prior to the publication of Kateh Vafadari’s letter, Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, member of parliament from Shahin Shahr, drew attention to the couple. “A young couple by the names of Karan and Afarin who are dual nationals returned to Iran,” he said, “[but] look them up and you will see what they do to renowned people and artists.” He then accused them of filming people drinking alcohol and using the footage to blackmail those individuals. “They... threaten them that if they do not cooperate the films will be published.”
A Litany of Usual Charges
In early 2017, the charges against Vafadari and Neysari were made public. The charges included: “Possession of alcoholic beverages at [their] home”; “socializing with foreign diplomats”; “cooperation with the enemies of the state”; “running a house of corruption”; “activities to overthrow the regime”; “selection and recruitment of spies through foreign embassies” and “collusion and conspiracy against national security.”
In another letter, published on March 10, 2017, Kateh Vafadari predicted that the charges against her brother and his wife could “lead to a sentence of 21 years in prison, a cash fine, and confiscation of their home and their other properties including their cars.” The sentences Judge Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court brought against them on January 27 prove that she had a good sense of what the outcome might be.
In September 2017, Karan Vafadari himself wrote a letter to Judge Salavati denying the charges against him. “After merely 20 years,” said the letter, “the interrogators told us that they are confident that we are not spies. I nor Ms. Neysari do not and have never had political affiliations. We have never been a member of a political party or group, society or guild. We have not been a member of a Telegram channel or [social networks]. Before going prison, we did not even know the name of a single political or human rights activist. And we had no idea that an organization named the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence even existed.”
In his letter, Vafadari insisted that “all charges against me and Afarin Neysari are, without exception, false and baseless...Neither of us has ever entertained the idea of committing acts against national security and the Islamic Republic, let alone committing these acts in reality.”
Judge Abolghasem Salavati has a long record of violating the rights of the defendants and in 2011 was blacklisted by the European Union. Those who follow his verdicts against dual nationals, journalists and activists would have been surprised if he had paid attention to or considered the defense put forward by Karan Vafadari and Afarin Neysari, or by those related to them.