"They ask him, 'Are you Mr. Ashouri?'. My father replies, ‘Yes’. They put a sack on his head and put him in the car and say, 'You are under arrest'."
Elika Ashouri is recalling the moment her father, Anousheh Ashouri, was arrested while visiting family in Iran in August 2017. News of the retired British-Iranian businessman’s arrest was made public the following month. In August 2019 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly spying for Israeli spy agency Mossad, and two years for "acquiring illegitimate wealth".
On Wednesday, April 9, the day of his 66th birthday, a desperate audio message sent by Anousheh Ashouri from jail was published on the Guardian’s website.
"Today is my 66th birthday and I am spending this day as a hostage in this circle of hell called Evin Prison," he said. "The allegations against me are false and none of them are true.”
Elika Ashouri, an actress living in London, confirms her father's words and categorically states that the accusations leveled at him are untrue. This week IranWire spoke to Elika Ashouri about what happened to him and his current condition.
Ms Ashouri, what happened to your father and how did it come about?
About two and a half years ago, my father went to Iran to visit his mother. My grandmother had had a knee operation and there was no one to take care of her after the surgery. We all came and went from Iran a lot. My father was supposed to stay there for about two and a half weeks, then return. Apparently, a week into his stay, he was going to the market to do some shopping when a van stopped in front of him. They ask him, ‘Are you Mr. Ashouri?’. My father says, ‘Yes’. They put a sack on his head and put him in the car and say, 'You are under arrest’. They take him to my grandmother's house and tell him to write a note to his mother to say that he was going to stay at a friend's house, and not to worry about him. He was then transferred to Evin Prison.
How did you find out?
We became concerned that day because my father was not a person who would not tell anyone where he was going. We were aware of exactly what my father was doing every minute. That's why my mother was so surprised.
We waited for about a day. Then my father called my grandmother and said that he had been taken to Evin Prison and was waiting to see if something had gone wrong. He said: "I’ll cooperate, it's nothing, and I will leave very soon." Then for two weeks, there was no more news. After two weeks passed my father called my grandmother again and said that he was still there, and if anyone came and asked for a certificate from his company, documents or his computer, to cooperate with them to show that he was innocent - and this would all be resolved as soon as possible. That's when we realized that something was going to happen.
In the message your father sent a few days ago, he emphasized again that he was innocent. The charges against him are related to Israel. How can this accusation be attributed to him?
This is not only about my father. If you observe all the political prisoners who have been arrested and sentenced, the allegations are the same: they say they worked for Israel. My father was neither a politician nor has he ever worked with any government; his job is in the private sector. None of our family members are political and we have nothing to do with politics. All my father's documents were confiscated, his files were confiscated, our emails were hacked and after a few months, they still did not find any evidence against him.
Your mother said in an interview that your father's job is in civil engineering, and not in a sensitive role.
My father's work was in the production of a material called Roofix, which is used to make buildings resistant to earthquakes. In areas such as Bam [in Kerman province] which had been affected by earthquakes, my father worked to strengthen the buildings. His work had nothing to do with the Iranian government. He had retired about two years ago and wanted to spend more time relaxing. He didn't even work anymore.
The Iranian government has demanded money from the British government in exchange for other hostages’ release. Did they ask for the same for your father?
We are in contact with the British Foreign Office about the possibility of helping my father. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif once said that if the amount was paid, the chances of these Iranians being released would be very high.
So, that the British government should pay something to get them released?
Yes. Everyone knows that in Iran that they will not imprison a real spy; they execute the real spies.
How often can you find out about your father's condition?
My father was in solitary confinement for about five months. When he came out, he could speak to my mother on the phone for 20 minutes in the morning and for 10 minutes in the evening. He was allowed to call seven numbers and could use those at the permitted times to tell us about his condition.
The message your father gave on his 66th birthday was decisive and clear. Some people would not send such a message for fear of getting into trouble in prison. Can you tell us why he did this?
Honestly, we were very scared before. The reason we didn't talk to the media for a year was because we didn't want to endanger my father's life and endanger his conditions. But then we came to the conclusion that we might communicate better as human beings. If someone calls from Evin Prison and asks for help, maybe it is more affective and realistic for those who hear it. When we broadcast the message, though, nothing happened to him. As much as we call on the Iranian government to release my father, we also call on the British government to work for the release of my father.