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Society & Culture

“Iran Uses its Citizens as Bargaining Chips,” says Former Official

February 16, 2016
6 min read
A former Iranian official has stated that Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari (above) and Amir Hekmati were innocent and used as a political tool in Iran’s negotiations with the United States
A former Iranian official has stated that Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari (above) and Amir Hekmati were innocent and used as a political tool in Iran’s negotiations with the United States
Amir Hekmati with his family after his release
Amir Hekmati with his family after his release

A former Iranian official, who is in close touch with intelligence agents in Iran, has stated that Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and Amir Hekmati, two of the four Iranian-Americans released from an Iranian prison last month, were innocent and used as a political tool in Iran’s negotiations with the United States.

In a recent conversation with IranWire, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, the fourth Iranian-American released from prison in Iran on January 16, 2016, said that he is still recovering from many months of incarceration and would like to have some time to gather his thoughts and strength before talking to the media about his ordeal in any detail.

“I still can’t believe that I was in prison for eight months even though I had done nothing wrong,” said Khosravi, who is known as Fred Khosravi in the United States. When he was released, he was known only as the mysterious fourth prisoner. Khosravi was released along with Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former marine Amir Hekmati as part of a prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States. Unlike the other former prisoners, Khosravi chose to stay in Iran for a short while instead of boarding a plane out of Tehran on January 17.

“I also can’t believe that I am free and out of prison. I’m in a limbo, and would like to have some peace and quiet to gain my strength back. I never wanted to be the mystery man. I just didn’t leave with the other former prisoners because I wanted to spend some time with my family before leaving Iran. Please publish my photo and thank everyone for their messages of support,” he said. 

After IranWire published an article about Khosravi on January 23, 2016, a former Iranian government official unexpectedly made contact with IranWire. The official, who still has contacts in the Iranian intelligence and judiciary, offered to talk to IranWire about Mr. Khosravi’s arrest, as well as about the arrest and imprisonment of former marine Amir Hekmati, who was jailed in Iran for almost four and a half years. The former official, who asked to remain anonymous and rarely gives interviews, said he felt it was important to shed some light on recent events.

The official began by saying that he believed the arrest of the two Iranian-Americans, Khosravi and Hekmati, was a political move. “It was a hostage-taking in the classical sense: incarcerating innocent people in order to gain an objective,” he told IranWire. The former official, who is a well-known figure within the reformist movement in Iran and who has held high positions in the government in the past, emphasized that he did not want to comment on the arrest of other Iranian-Americans, and was only commenting about Khosravi and Hekmati. “I know for a fact that these two had done nothing wrong. I also know that those who arrested them realized that their prisoners were innocent a few days after their arrest.” The former official claims that he took personal interest in the story when he read Amir Hekmati’s letters to Iranian and American officials on IranWire. He says that he tried to find out about Hekmati as much as possible through his contacts at the Ministry of Intelligence and the judiciary.

He claims that his research into Hekmati’s case showed that the Iranian-American was innocent, and he decided to find out what his contacts understood about the case.

“Some of my friends are still in the government and we meet every now and then to chat about different issues. I started to tell others about the ridiculousness of Hekmati’s case and sentence,” the former official said.

Amir Hekmati was given death sentence for espionage in January 2012. A few months later, the sentence was commuted to 10 years’ imprisonment. “I remember reading about Hekmati celebrating his birthday in prison in IranWire [in July 2015]. Hekmati had said he was being used as a bargaining chip. I told my contacts about this and wondered: how can someone be sentenced to death one day for espionage and then, two months later, have the sentence reduced to 10 years? He’s either a spy who should be executed or he's not a spy and should be freed. I argued that this kind of wishy-washy treatment of espionage cases is not good for the image of the Islamic Republic, and will make people trust us even less than before. At that moment, a friend who still works for the Ministry of Intelligence smiled and said, ‘We also have a new prisoner that we haven’t revealed yet. He’s even more innocent than Hekmati'". The intelligence agent was referring to Khosravi, who had been arrested in May 2015. 

“My [intelligence agent] friend said, with a even a bigger smile, 'But we’re going to keep him as well until they pay the right price for him. Our government needs assets.’ He also said that Americans do anything to get their citizens out of prison, and that makes Iranian-Americans valuable bargaining chips for the Iranian government — and he was saying this with a smile, as if he was proud of it. So, basically these Iranian citizens (who also have American nationality) were nothing to our government but assets, things that could be bought and sold.”

The former official said he was “seething with anger” when he heard this. “I took part in the Revolution and fought in the [Iran-Iraq] war for three years. I had tried to honestly help our country. So it really saddens me that a government that I had helped bring to power treats its own people like that. I don’t think the Americans would have ever done that to their own people.”

During the conversation with IranWire, the former official trembled with emotion, and emphasized the importance of getting this information out to reporters outside Iran. He used the words “regret” and “revolting” (afsoos and eftezah in Persian) several times. “I saw my [intelligence agent] friend after the prisoners were released. When I told him that it appeared that the Iranian-American prisoners were innocent, he said, ‘Of course they were.’ But he was still proud of the deal they had done with the Americans. 'We gave them four, and they gave us seven. Nothing to complain about.’ That is revolting behavior. No wonder that all the prisoners that Iran released left Iran within a few days, but the prisoners that the Americans released didn’t want to even leave the United States and come to Iran. Our government should be ashamed of treating its people like that. It should also be ashamed that their own people whom they bargained with the Americans to release are reluctant to return to Iran.”

The former government official said that he chose IranWire to convey his story because the site had published Amir Hekmati’s letters and the January 23 article about Khosravi. Read the full article about Khosravi. 


Related articles:

Who is Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari? The Story of the Fourth American Prisoner

US Prisoners on Way Home

Iran's Political Prisoners: It helps to have a US passport