Sanam Kazemi, an Iranian-British environmental activist, writer and researcher, was arrested in late October of 2022 at her home in the central city of Isfahan, but for several days people close to her did not know she had been detained.
After spending more than two months in solitary confinement, Kazerouni was transferred to Ward 4 of Dolat Abad Women's Prison in Isfahan two weeks ago.
In her first phone call after her transfer, Kazerouni said she had been subjected to non-stop interrogations for 64 nights, with four spotlights on her face and a lie detector attached to her, according to information received by IranWire.
“I was losing my mind,” she told a close friend.
The interrogators reportedly put Kazerouni under huge pressure but failed to extract “confessions” from her.
She said most of the interrogations had been focused on her dual nationality. As of now, no charges against her have been officially announced.
IranWire has repeatedly asked her lawyer about the case, but he has refused to provide any answers.
Kazemi’s arrest came amid a brutal crackdown by the authorities on months of anti-government protests in which more than 520 people were killed and over 19,000 were illegally detained, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
“A Strong, Self-Made Woman”
According to her friends, Kazeruni was born in the United Kingdom in 1970. Her father took her to Iran after he separated from her mother. He then registered her at a boarding school that was founded by a French Christian missionary and continued operating for a while after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Kazeruni has no close relations with family members.
“For many years, Sanam lived alone and had a hard time,” a friend says. “She had to deal with everything all by herself and had nobody to support her. Whatever she achieved was achieved by herself. She is a strong and self-made woman.”
The charges against Kazerouni are related to her alleged links with Tavaana, an e-learning institute for Iranian civil society, and Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran. IranWire’s investigations show that there are no connections between Kazerouni and these two organizations. And IranWire's legal adviser Musa Barzin Khalifehlou says that this is an “illegal charge” because, under the law, communicating with human rights groups and websites is not a crime, neither is sending reports to these organizations about human rights violations.
“10 years ago, Sanam traveled to Lebanon with a group of Christian missionaries and lived there for some time,” says Kazerouni’s friend. “This has been used as an excuse to accuse her of spying for Israel. And an examining magistrate by the name of Sabbagh also told her that she has been charged with proselytizing Christianity.”
Khalifehlou says that espionage charges make sense if the defendant has had access to classified information, but “an ordinary person has no access to classified and confidential documents.” “If the defendant is charged with having relations with belligerent governments, then the other party must be a government and, by the way, the law does not define ‘belligerence’ as something political, meaning that the countries must be at war. A few years ago, the judiciary asked the Foreign Ministry what countries were engaged in hostilities with Iran. The answer: No country is engaged in hostilities with Iran except Israel, which Iran does not recognize as a legitimate state.”
“However, the government of the Islamic Republic usually charges and convicts members of the opposition or even ordinary individuals with cooperating with belligerent states and espionage simply because they have given interviews to foreign media and organizations, and such cases are unlawful.”
“Therefore, the charge against Ms. Kazeruni regarding her connections or cooperation with belligerent states is invalid and unlawful.”
No Lies Detected
Her friend told IranWire that Kazeruni’s lawyer conceded that the case will probably be sent to Branch 1 of Isfahan Revolutionary Court.
The presiding judge of this branch is Morteza Barati, who became known as a “hanging judge” after sentencing at least three protesters to death without allowing their appointed counsels to attend the trials. On February 20, Britain imposed sanctions on Barati and two other Iranian judges.
Kazeruni’s friend says that the lie detector attached to Kazeruni during her interrogations did not detect any lies in her answers. The interrogators dismissed the results of the machine and “said that she has been trained in Israel to control her mind.”
Why Was Kazerouni Arrested?
Those who know Kazerouni are still wondering why she was arrested. “Her activities were confined to her friends and people close to her, and she has never been socially active,” according to her friend.
Kazerouni has authored several books and is the administrator of the Telegram channels “Medicinal Herbs and Related Products” and “Rare and Forbidden Books.” The channels had more than 40,000 followers before they were blocked.
Those who know Kazeruni say she always introduced herself as a farmer. She has an extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs and is known as a researcher in this field. She has a garden outside Isfahan where she plants medicinal herbs and makes herbal distillates.
“Sanam has no family in Iran,” a friend of hers tells IranWire. “In early November, her friends called her many times on the phone but could not find her. They became worried so they went to the building where she lives, and the building’s doorman told them that security forces arrested Sanam some weeks earlier and took her with them.”
A friend of Kazeruni says she was likely arrested because she had translated “forbidden” books, although this friend has no idea what these books might be.