New Charges Against Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari
New charges against Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari, who have been incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin Prison in Iran since 20th of July 2016, have come to light. These charges that are of grave concern were announced during a preliminary hearing.
Karan and Afarin have been under interrogation since their arrests and accused of various trumped-up charges ranging from being a dual national and having alcoholic beverages at their house to associating with foreign diplomats; labelling their home as a centre of vice (prostitution); being spies, and collaborating with the enemies of the state.
“Attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran” was also added, as well as “recruiting and signing up spies through foreign embassies,” “assembly and collusion against national security”. Furthermore, the authorities have gone as far as also refusing to recognize their civil marriage.
After almost eight months of incarceration by Iran’s militia, Sepah Passdaran Intelligence Service, they were sent to be briefed of their alleged crimes before Judge Abolghasem Salavati. Most of the charges previously dropped by the prosecutor because of lack of any evidence, were reinstated by the presiding judge during the preliminary hearing. He did not allow their lawyer to be present at this hearing, and ordered Karan to dismiss her.
A judicial theatrical drama based on trumped-up charges where facts matter the least raise grave concern for Karan and Afarin’s marriage, their lives and wellbeing.
Arrest and Incarceration
Afarin was arrested in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Service (IRGIS) when she was about to board a plane to travel to Italy in order to jump start an important art project, which was to prepare for Mr. Bizhan Bassiri’s solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale festival as approved and certified by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the Minister of Culture. Karan was supposed to join her a few days later on their trip, and to visit his three children who live in the US. Karan received a call from Afarin, and when he went to see her he too was arrested.
They were initially told by the judge on duty that due to the fact that there was no proof of “espionage” they would be freed with a minimum amount of bail. But they were not, and instead they were sent to Evin Prison, building 2-A, operated by IRGIS, and were kept there for a month. Karan and Afarin were told by the security agents that they had films of everything that had been going on their house, accused them of being “spies”, and locked them up in solitary confinement.
During this time their home was searched for 12 full days, including their offices and place of business for additional unknown number of days. The security agents tore down and destroyed some art pieces, and took some others away with them. They then sealed their home and art gallery.
Hoping the misunderstanding would be cleared up quickly, their families had been patiently waiting to see them return home and had no clue of the horrendous circumstances the two were subjected to. The initial interrogations were surreal. An art gallery presenting Iranian art to the international community in Tehran has clients that are from various countries. The Intelligence officials put Afarin under pressure repeatedly to become their spy in that art milieu. She was told to spy on all her friends including her husband Karan. She was returned to solitary confinement due to her refusal.
On 2nd of August, 2016, Tehran’s Prosecutor General, Mr. Jafari Dowlat-Abadi, without mentioning their names, publicly announced that “the best news of the last two weeks” was the arrest of “the two with dual citizenship” whose home was a “centre of immorality and prostitution”, for having “alcoholic beverages”, and having “mixed gatherings” with “foreigners” as their guests. This was followed by a public announcement by Deputy Hadji Deligani, a member of Iran’s parliament from Shahin Shahr, a city far from Tehran, in which he called the detainees by their first names, referring to them as “the young couple” and repeating the same baseless slanders and adding the charge of “extortion”.
After being in the temporary prison ward for five months Karan was moved to general section. Afarin was moved to the women’s detention center with minimum facilities and under tight security.
Because of the lack of any evidence almost all the charges were dropped by the prosecutor, but as mentioned above reinstated in the preliminary hearing by judge Salavati of the Revolutionary Court. The charges could carry up to 21 years imprisonment, in addition to cash fines, confiscation of their house, other real estate properties, and their automobiles.
Afarin is mentally and physically under a lot of stress. She has expressed her situation as intolerable and has told her mother that she would prefer to be dead if they continue to keep her in prison.
On December 1st, 2016, in a letter to Islamic Republic Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed ‘Ali Khamenei, Kateh Vafadari, Karan’s sister, explained how her brother and his wife had been detained and framed with baseless charges, and she urged the Supreme Leader to order their release. In her letter she said that their arrest is a violation of the couple’s right to their private life and the privacy of their profession. She stated that they have been framed for vice and financial extortion—to seize the home and other properties of a religious minority (Karan is Zoroastrian, one of the recognized religious minorities of Iran).
In a public letter, Roberto Toscano, former Italian Ambassador to Iran, condemns the arrest and detention of dual Iranian-American citizen Karan Vafadari and his wife, whom he refers to as being among “the most dignified people” he had met during his five years in Tehran as ambassador. The Ambassador continues: “And the home that I visited more than once was certainly not a den of vice and debauchery.” Ambassador Toscano further noted that “it is thanks to people like them that foreign diplomats posted in Iran have had the opportunity of gaining an appreciation of Iran’s culture, both traditional and contemporary, and of Iranian society.”
Some two hundred Iranian artists and intellectuals who recognize the significance of this case to the welfare of the artistic community, stepped forward and signed a letter to the Head of the Judiciary of Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, asking for Karan and Afarin’s immediate release. In their letter they state “the couple have been engaged with presenting artworks in “Aun” gallery, which functioned in the direction of freedom of art, an endeavour that requires the support of the government and not imprisonment of this honourable couple and not sealing and closure of their gallery. Methods of arrest and incarceration and the spreading of rumors and slander against the imprisoned by security forces is well-known in our homeland and all over the world for a long time and are rejected by all. These actions, arrest and incarceration for art, tarnish not only this honourable couple but the entire art and artistic community, society, freedom and independence of the motherland.” (Karan and Afarin were also accused of organizing the writing of this letter that was signed by Iranian artists while inside the prison, a charge they have rejected.)
Who are Karan and Afarin?
Karan Vafadari, was born in a Zoroastrian (an ancient and now minority religion) family in Iran. He has 3 children who live in the United States.
Karan attended Tehran’s prestigious Alborz High School. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from New York University in Computer Science. Simultaneously he achieved a second Master’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1987, and in 1989 he received his MBA in Business Administration and Management from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in California.
Afarin is an architect who runs their art gallery for a living; a small business which has been shut down and sealed ever since their arrest. Aun Gallery was established in 2009 in accordance with all necessary rules and permits, to promote talented young Iranian artists and to support their contribution to Iran's rich tradition in the arts and culture.
Besides the art gallery, Karan and Afarin hold a permit from the Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance for Hookht publication, “Aun Negarestan” (publication for contemporary visual arts) with the aim of promoting Iranian art and culture by building a better understanding and relationship between artists and intellectuals in Iran and at the international level.
What is at stake?
In regards to the espionage and sedition charges: according to Iran’s current policy dual nationals are barred from holding government posts. The government and judiciary of Iran often equate dual nationals and dual citizenship with spying and seditious activity. Violating a citizen’s right based on identity and equating dual nationality and citizenship with being a spy and with sedition charges is a miscarriage of justice. The entire government and judicial campaign against so-called “spies” renders false the truth of national development and sovereignty which is open, transparent and all embracing. Besides, Karan and Afarin are private citizens and do not work for the Iranian government or indeed any government. They ran an art gallery. A small business which is established with all the legal permits. Two patriots devoted to presenting Iran’s independent art.
In regards to possession of alcoholic beverages: Zoroastrians are a recognized religious minority in Iran, and alcoholic beverages in a Zoroastrian home are like any other beverage and there is no basis for besmirching them on that basis, as it is legal for Zoroastrians to keep and consume alcohol in their homes.
In regards to their marriage: Karan and Afarin have been married since 2002. They married in the state of Nevada. Karan was born in a Zoroastrian family and Afarin in a Muslim. Their marriage was settled in a civil ceremony that issued the marriage license. There is no basis for the prosecution, and for the judiciary to revisit and question this bona fide marriage. There is no basis to violate the couple’s right or to question their existing marriage.
Karan and Afarin are accused of having “un-ethical and inappropriate art” and associating with non-Iranian clients: good, or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, the subject of art lies with the artist and the customer. Karan and Afarin present independent art by individual artists destined for individual buyers. Art policing is against the peoples’ achievements of the 1979 revolution, and against accepted international norms with regards to the development of art and culture. To present Iranian art, they worked with Iranians and non-Iranians alike.
All charges against Karan and Afarin are baseless. Their arrest and detention is a blow to religious freedom. It is an attack on citizens’ private lives. It is in the opposite direction of Iran’s right to self-determination and its road to national independence.
Release Karan and Afarin
Karan and Afarin have committed no crime, and
Karan’s two sons and his daughter are worried and desperate to see their father.
They are both respected small business art gallery owners.
They have never held any government positions nor have they worked for any government.
Karan and Afarin have devoted their lives to promoting Iranian art and culture in Iran and beyond.
Karan and Afarin are generous and kind.
Karan and Afarin have helped those in need.
Karan and Afarin believe in family and family traditions.
At the very least, Iran’s judiciary must release Karan and Afarin, who represent no danger to Iran or Iranians, on bail. Allow them to hire a lawyer to defend them based on legal proceedings and a fair trial.
Iran’s judiciary must allow an unbiased, independent, international lawyer to represent Karan and Afarin.
How You Can Help
All those who stand for civil liberties, artistic freedom, minority rights, and Iran’s right to self-determination; all those who know Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari, friends, family, artists, anywhere you are, in any language, please write letters of support asking for Karan and Afarin’s immediate release.
Happy Birthday Karan!
Free Karan and Afarin!
Kateh Vafadari, 8th of March 2017
Please send your letters to:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
c/o Mr. Gholamali Khoshroo
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani, Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur Street, Vali Asr Avenue, South of Serah-e Jomhouri
Islamic Republic of Iran
President Hassan Rouhani
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Ministry of Foreign Affairs