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Another Iranian-Canadian Charged with Working With Enemy States

October 21, 2020
Niloufar Rostami
8 min read
Iranian-Canadian Reza Eslami was arrested on the campus of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and charged with “collaborating with a hostile state”
Iranian-Canadian Reza Eslami was arrested on the campus of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and charged with “collaborating with a hostile state”
Judge Abolghasem Salavati presided over the trial, which was held on October 20
Judge Abolghasem Salavati presided over the trial, which was held on October 20

An Iranian-Canadian professor has appeared in court facing charges of “collaborating with a hostile government.”

The trial against Reza Eslami, a professor at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University, got underway on October 20, and, according to his lawyer, “several sessions” will follow. The case was heard by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who regularly rules on the cases of political prisoners.

The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) broke the news, accompanied by an interview with Rasoul Kuhpayehzadeh, Eslami’s lawyer, who said that his client had defended himself in court after being informed of the charges against him. However, he added that his client was unsure how authorities had come up with the charge of “collaboration,”  a charge that Iranian judicial authorities often use interchangeably with the charge of espionage. The specifics of the case have not been made public.

Eslami, a dual national Iranian-Canadian citizen, is a law graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada and a member of the scientific board of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. Prior to his arrest, he taught human rights and environmental law at Shahid Beheshti University.

He was arrested on May 11, 2020 by Ministry of Intelligence agents and transferred to a cell in Ward 209 of Evin Prison.

The Iran Human Rights website quoted a source close to Eslami as saying that on the same day of his arrest, Ministry of Intelligence agents also searched his office at Shahid Beheshti University Law School, and after confiscating his personal belongings, including bags, laptops, books and mobile phones, they handcuffed him while still on the campus and took him to his home, where they also carried out a search.

They kept him in detention, and a few days later, on May 19, Gholamhossein Esmaili, a spokesperson for the judiciary, confirmed Eslami’s arrest at a news conference. The comments followed widespread protests by students, university professors and staff over his arrest, and the fact that it happened on campus. But the spokesman denied this aspect of the police operation: ”The arrest was not made at the university and the presence of officers at the university was due to the fact that after his arrest, he confessed in interrogations that part of his criminal documents were kept in his office in the university on his laptop, so they went there and removed the documents from his room. When a person claims that criminal documents are in his room, shouldn’t we take them? Or should we not defuse a bomb?”

In late July, Branch 1 of Evin Prison's Prosecutor's Office charged Eslami with collaborating with the "hostile" United States government. At the same time, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that the academic had been arrested for attending a training course in the Czech Republic. Iranian security officials claim that the NGO that conducted the training course was in contact with the US government, the news agency reported.

In an audio file sent to HRANA, Eslami said he was "completely unaware and had no connection with any government agency.”


Iran is Not at War, and Yet its Judiciary Claims there are “Hostile Governments"

Reza Eslami is a prolific author, and has published more than 50 articles on human rights both in Iran and internationally. Between 2001 and 2019, he published 17 books on the subject.

In addition to Reza Eslami, there are dozens of Iranian dual nationals accused of "espionage" or "collaborating with hostile states." Security agents have increased their arrests of people accused of these charges carried out in recent years, despite the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in 2013, via a letter to the International Affairs of the Judiciary, that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not at war with any government. However, in behavior that reveals the tensions between Iran’s governmental branches, the judiciary tends not to pay attention to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and continues to arrest and try citizens on these charges.

Saeed Khalili, the lawyer for Omid Kokabee, a nuclear physics Ph.D student who was jailed from 2011 to 2016, first raised this issue after his client was arrested. As he told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, his client had been convicted of collaborating with hostile states, but according to official sources this had no real basis and "Iran is not currently at war with any country.” Therefore, he said, Kokabee should be acquitted and released.

However, judicial authorities failed to acknowledge this and only released him five years on from his arrest, and after he had developed cancer and had a kidney removed while he was finally granted medical treatment in a hospital.

Most of the defendants who have been charged with collaborating with hostile states, including Kokabee, Fariba Adelkhah, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Aras Amiri, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahabaz, Siamak Namazi, Baqer Namazi, and Reza Eslami have been tried at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, one of several judges known for issuing lengthy sentences and violating the rights of the accused.

There is also a long list of defendants, many of them dual nationals, who have also been imprisoned on this charge but whose names and cases have not been published in the media.


The Secretive Detention Centers of Evin

Reza Khandan, the husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been held in Evin prison since March 2020 and served a previous sentence there too, has said there are currently about 50 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience held on Ward 4 of Evin Prison on charges of espionage and collaborating with hostile states. "There is a xenophobic perception among the security and judiciary institutions, and because of this, anyone who is suspected is quickly arrested on these charges,” Sotoudeh has told IranWire in the past. “Unfortunately, such a charge is punishable by 10 years in prison under the Islamic Penal Code. It means that the person will be destroyed in prison for a decade, and when he comes out, there is nothing left of him. Not only his own life, but also the lives of those around him and his family will be affected.”

Reza Khandan agreed there was very little accurate information available about the number of citizens detained on these charges. During Nasrin Sotoudeh's first period in detention, from 2010 to 2013, Khandan says it was different.  "I remember only one Iraqi woman was detained in the women's ward of Evin Prison on charges of espionage, but now several women — seven or eight — are being held in Evin’s women's ward on this charge or are sent out of the prison tagged with an electronic control device. "Most of these defendants are being transferred to security cells. Every security institution has set up a stall in Evin Prison, from where it rules. The Ministry of Intelligence, the judiciary, and the Revolutionary Guards all have detention centers there, and even the head of the prison is not allowed to enter or interfere in their affairs. The number of prisoners in these detention centers is not known. Even people imprisoned there do not know how many other prisoners like him are in that detention center, unless the prisoner is transferred to a public ward or released. In this case, too, he can only give reports about himself or the two or four people who were with him in the cell. That is how the number of detainees in these security detention centers is always kept secret.” In late July, the Iran Prison Atlas reported on 46 prisoners accused of collaborating with hostile states or spying.

Khandan remembers his own time on Ward 4 at Evin Prison: "At that time, there were about 53 people in hall 12 of Ward 8 accused of espionage or collaborating with hostile states. This hall had special conditions and was not like other halls in the prison. Telephones and movement were more restricted. However, there were some prisoners accused of these charges who were in other wards, such as Siamak Namazi, Mohammad Ali Babapour, Massoud Kiani, and Tavakol Kebritsaz, ​​the grandson of the owner of the Tavakoli match company, who was charged with espionage or collaborating with hostile states and who was our inmate in Ward 4. But later, at the time of the coronavirus outbreak, most of them were transferred from hall 12 of Ward 8, to Ward 4 of Evin Prison, where they are still being held."

In a separate development, there were reports on October 21 that Sotoudeh had been transferred out of Evin Prison to Gharchak Prison.

Massoud Kiani was released shortly after his arrest, but Babapour and Kebritsaz were each sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“In September 2018, when I was arrested, I saw that the number of prisoners charged with espionage and collaborating with hostile states was higher than other defendants such as monarchists, Green Movement activists, leftists, and so on,” says Reza Khandan. “More importantly, many of them are truly innocent, and each of them has been arrested for a purpose. They have been arrested on this charge either to extract money, or for a prisoner exchange, or even to keep them for a day when something goes wrong with a particular country, and the Iranian government can use them to get greater concessions."



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