Husband and wife, Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari, after being held in Tehran’s Evin prison for more than one-and-a-half years, have recently been unjustly sentenced behind closed doors to 27 years and 16 years of imprisonment respectively, hundreds of lashes, thousands of dollars in cash fines, and seizure of their tangible and real properties by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Salavati, ostensibly for being a dual national and belonging to the Zoroastrian faith, one of the world’s oldest religions.

Karan and Afarin are ordinary people with ordinary lives. Karan is an Iranian with US citizenship. Afarin has permanent resident status in the United States. Karan is Zoroastrian, Afarin is from a Muslim family.

Karan’s dual citizenship status and his belonging to a religious minority are the basis for the couple’s arrest and incarceration, interrogation and frame-up by one of Iran’s security apparatus, Sepah Pasdaran or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and its judicial branch; and sentencing them to long imprisonment along with cruel punishment of lashes and seizure of all their wealth.

The charges and the imprisonment of Karan and Afarin are a violation of the rights of citizens of Iran as dual nationals, and also the violation of the rights of a member of a religious minority in Iran.

Karan and Afarin are innocent of any wrongdoing. 
Free Karan and Afarin!

The arrest and sentencing of Karan, as a dual national, contradicts the elementary rights of all Iranians. Their sentencing comes at a time of an intense campaign of harassment against dual nationals, spearheaded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and carried through the Iranian media.

Many in the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the last nearly 40 years, have been or are dual nationals with long histories of living in Iraq, or Western Europe, or the United States. This includes members of the original Provisional Government, the President, Foreign Minister, cabinet ministers, members of the legislative branch and the Islamic Revolutionary Judiciary. To use dual nationality as a reason for suppression is quite arbitrary. Like all dictatorial actions, there is disregard for the law by the IRGC and its judicial supplements in matters of their interest.

An example is the former Head of Iran’s Judiciary Ayatollah Shahroodi, a leading clergyman, currently Chairman of Expediency Discernment Council, the high government body since August of 2017, who was born in Najaf, Iraq and is therefore a dual national by birth. During the last 2 centuries, many leading Shia clerics have split their residence between Iran and Iraq. Other examples are the presidential candidate of Mo’talefeh-Bazar in the 2017 presidential election, boasted of his dual nationality by holding his first press conference in French, or members of the ruling cadre who currently hold Iranian and Syrian passports. The current witch-hunt of dual nationals by IRGC is unprecedented in scope and crudeness, and exhibits the complete disregard for the law by the IRGC and its judicial arm in matters of their interest. 

Dual nationality is being used as a means to eliminate political or economic rivals among competing factions of the clerical-led government, namely the coalition of the Bazar, Mo’talefeh and Sepah Pasdaran (IRGC). Karan and Afarin have never held any government position, neither did they work for any institution, nor did they own any sizable business. They had a small art gallery, managed by Afarin with proper government permit and up-to-date approval of the exhibitions, yet they became the target for suppression. According to the District Attorney “this [Karan’s incarceration] will serve as a warning to ALL dual citizens.”

Sadly, the Iranian government has detained dual citizens as a leverage to demand concessions like ransom and sanctions relief or “exchange of prisoners” presented by the entire ruling spectrum from the IRGC to the President Rouhani/Foreign Minister Zarif Administration. The representatives of the government speak of using prisoners inside Iran as an exchange for Iranian prisoners held in foreign countries. This illegitimate activity is presented as a valid response to Washington’s actions against Iran. Stripping Iranian patriots of their right to citizenship through de facto exile is against Iran’s civil law. Dual nationals, as citizens of Iran and the United States, Western Europe, Australia and other countries, comprise of millions of Iranians (5 to 6 million). (According to a 2009 IMF report, the outflow of Iranian migrants, chiefly minorities, specialists and the educated, is about 150,000 per year.)

It is now a bitter banter amongst Iranians, whereby expat dual nationals are invited by the government to return and are encouraged to work or invest in Iran, adored and welcomed as prized citizens of the State, but shortly thereafter, are condemned as spies! Just in recent weeks, a vice minister of Environment, invited to return to Iran by the President to serve, was arrested on charges of spying, and was released shortly after due to intervention from the top. Karan states: “Despite our innocence, especially now, it is obvious that the IRGC wants to use us to make loud and clear statements:  No more dual-citizens (in or out of the government)”—who are NOT with “us”! Karan and Afarin have been living in Iran for the last 15 years occupying their time with the pursuit of their work in the arts (with artists and art world) for the last 6 years. They did not choose to live in Iran based on anybody’s invitation, but felt it to be their inalienable right as Iranians.

After their arrest, their treatment as prisoners has been based on familiar methods used during incarceration by any repressive security apparatus: solitary confinement, isolation and pressure through police tactics to break prisoners who are guilty of no wrongdoing, by showering them with accusations after accusations. The IRGC plays all sorts of tricks and uses illicit interrogation tactics to label this couple as “spies”. These accusations range from the made-up charges of having travelled to Israel, which they have not, to “espionage”, and “identifying and recruiting spies”, “working with foreign governments against Iran’s interest”. All of the accusations brought against the couple are baseless, based on no proof and corroborated by no evidence. The IRGC then tries to charge Karan with money laundering and intervention in the country’s financial system, which is punishable by the death sentence. This fabricated charge was dropped. There was no evidence whatsoever. This charge was followed by the charge of possession of antiques in their home. The charge of possessing antiques, punishable by death which “was their intention from the very first day that I was arrested” according to Karan. This charge was also dropped—after experts’ report that a broken jar in their home was nothing but a broken jar.

During the interrogations Afarin is placed under tremendous pressure in order to make her falsely testify against her husband, Karan; to say that he works for a foreign government secret service, specifically MOSSAD and CIA, which carries the death sentence, and Afarin herself is ordered to spy for the IRGC security apparatus among the foreign ambassadors in Iran, who at times are clients of their small art business. Afarin tolerates the harsh incarceration and does not bend to the pressure. The spying accusation is dropped.

Eventually Judge Salavati sentences Karan with the falsified and fabricated charge of “collusion to conspire against national security”; a charge that requires no proof! This bogus charge used against Karan can be used against anyone because it is based on “intent” as interpreted by the prosecution and judge, and is not based on any proof or the accused’s actual actions.  All it takes to become a candidate for such an ordeal is to be a dual national. Needless to say, this is the most widely used national security charge and carries a 2 to 5-year prison term—a charge for which Karan has received a 7.5 years sentence.

Based on an obsolete Article (989), in January 2018, Judge Salavati delivers the verdict not only to “null” and “void” Karan’s US citizenship, but also declares that they will confiscate and sell all his belongings, home, automobile, etc. that he owns in Iran for being a foreign national.  This is beyond all logic. Karan and Afarin have not renounced their Iranian citizenship, and if he is no longer a “foreign” national, according to the judge’s ruling, then how can he be stripped of all of his belongings and livelihood?

Article 989 is in contradiction with the Iran’s current Constitution. The judgment in this case is based on this Article of the Iranian Civil Code, introduced in 1928 by the self-declared Pahlavi king, Reza Shah, in regards to dual citizens. At the time, some of the close associates of the ruthless king, fearing for their lives, were taking sanctuary in European countries. This article was passed under the rule of the autocratic shah, to strip such individuals of their belongings and properties while they were abroad. This obsolete article was re-approved in 1985 by The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Majlis (Parliament). After the 1979 revolution, many reactionary laws from the Pahlavi period (1920-79) became the basis of the Islamic Republic’s penal and civil code in relation to women, religious minorities, national minorities, workers, farmers, and in regards to civil and political liberties. These old laws enhanced with supplemental penalties, the adoption of cruel and unusual punishments such as lashings, dismemberment of body parts like hands or fingers, and blinding by gauging eyes out, are among the practices of the Islamic Revolutionary judiciary. According to Tehran’s District Attorney’s press conference that was held on January 15th, 2018, Karan was the very FIRST person ever convicted under this law! Karan says from prison after being sentenced: “No one knew about this Article until now. I was not even charged with it when arrested!

Prosecution and the trial are merely mediums of insult and threats against the defendants. The verdict, as in this case by Judge Salavati, does not get presented to the defendants in writing. Once a sentence is passed, the prosecution and judge in the IRGC apparatus have been known to look for opportunities to execute the prisoners in the ensuing years—as demonstrated repeatedly during the last nearly 40 years, or have them “commit suicide.”

Holding dual citizenship is not a crime.
Free Karan and Afarin!

In Iran, Zoroastrians, an ancient religion with thousands of years of roots in the region, are now a religious minority and subject to routine discrimination and societal abuse. What has remained of them is an increasingly small minority who still speak in their unique Dari language.

In the past couple of centuries, after the conquest of Arabs (7th century AD), Zoroastrians become a stateless religious group scattered throughout the Middle East under different titles.  Especially during the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) the Zoroastrian’s population continue to decline. During the rule of Agha Mohammad Khan, a blood-thirsty and brutal founder of the dynasty, many Zoroastrians were killed and some were taken as captives to Azerbaijan. Before the Qajar dynasty, in the early 16th century the Safavids (1502-1736) declare Shiism as the state religion, and ultimately suppressed and obliterated Zoroastrians in Isfahan (Safavid’s last capital) along with Jews, when they ordered universal conversion to Shia Islam.

In Iran’s modern history, various methods have been used to convert Zoroastrians to Islam. Zoroastrians are regarded as outcast, impure and untouchable. They find it hard to secure jobs or engage in trade. Thus, many Zoroastrians are forced to convert or live in misery. On top of that, a heavy religious tax called Jaziyeh is imposed on them. Jaziyeh, which was annulled in 1892 by the Qajars, was reinstated unofficially by the Islamic Republic since their establishment in 1979. Due to the unregulated corruption amongst tax officials, at times twice and even three times the official figure is collected, because every intermediary has to receive his share. This continues to be the case as Zoroastrian property and belongings are viewed by the IRGC as Halal (permissible) booty that has to be split amongst the usurpers.  According to Judge Salavati’s ruling, 40 % of Karan and Afarin’s belongings will be awarded to the IRGC, and 60% to a host of others. What takes place is plain robbery, corruption, and coercion dressed as court rulings and the booty is divided among various parties from the judge to this or that person, this or that prosecutor and finally the IRGC.

In Iran where Shia Islam is the official government religion, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Sheikhieh, Baha’is, Sufis, and Sunnis, are viewed as expendable and have minimal rights. This continues to be true up to and including the birth of the Islamic Republic when religious minorities were announced to be second class citizens. In civil Sharia law practiced by the government of Iran, a person belonging to a minority religion is not viable to be a witness in a court of law. The marriage of a Muslim to a member of minority religion is not allowed or registered by the government. The Islamic Republic of Iran, at its outset, ordered religious minorities to put signs on their businesses to be clearly marked as minority-owned. In recent years many Zoroastrians have been detained for even talking about their religion. In Yazd Zoroastrians are denied access to public swimming pools. Violent dispute by a person of minority religion against a Muslim can be punished up to and including death. In the Bazaar, which is the economic hub of the country, religious minorities like Jewish and Zoroastrian traders, have been forced to convert to Islam to be able to thrive economically during much of the 20th century. Conversion from Islam to other religions, like Zoroastrianism, is punishable up to and including death.

People of a religious minority are out of the mainstream society, be it in everyday discourse, jobs or business. They are far away from the fierce economic competition of the ruling rich and government foundations at the top. As Karan states, “before incarceration we did not even know IRGC has a security unit. Nor did we know the name of anybody associated with Human Rights; or the various propaganda radios beamed against Iran”. However, being a person of a minority religion, all one has to do is to walk the life of a minority to find him or herself denied higher education, job or life opportunities or in the solitary confinement of the political police led by the IRGC. The stigma of belonging to a minority religion, is used as an obstacle in the everyday life of many of Iran’s citizens. The judiciary system is supposed to protect religious minorities, but on the contrary; clampdowns, persecution, incarceration and conviction take place based on minority identity--as in the case of Karan and Afarin.

A recent example of the clampdown on religious minorities is when a Zoroastrian man, the only non-Muslim, who ran for the City Council of Yazd was elected by the people of his hometown for the third time, however, the security apparatus disallows him from attending to his duties. He is prohibited from serving as a member of the City Council after a “complaint” by the losing candidate who had called for the disqualification of the councilmember due to his religion. Being a Zoroastrian is the only reason for his disqualification as openly stated.

Late Professor Kasra Vafadari, our eldest brother, was barred from serving as Zoroastrian representative in the Islamic Majlis (parliament) after he gained 90% vote (the highest majority vote ever), by the IRGC and security apparatus. Kasra was later murdered (2005) during a trip to Paris in his sleep, the night before returning to Iran. The assailant had a background in the IRGC.

When it comes to Zoroastrianism, a non-Abrahamic religion, there are many differences with Islam; whether in dress code, lifestyle, singing and music, relationships between men and women, how they intermingle, or consume alcohol in times of joy or sorrow. Making and drinking wine is not forbidden for Zoroastrians, like Christians, and it is considered a holy drink to be served at various ceremonies, a practice performed for thousands of years. The Zoroastrian calendar is full of holy days, feasts and festivals, giving Zoroastrians the reputation of being a joyful religion full of celebration. Festivals are a very prominent aspect of Zoroastrian worship and are closely linked with the seasons. The spring equinox, Norooz—Persian New Year— is one of those days celebrated by all Iranians across the globe nowadays. The elementary duty to protect all religions, and respect religious differences, is shunned by the government, and Zoroastrians are targeted for celebrating their festivals some of which are shared by the majority of Iranians.

Karan and Afarin, lead their normal lives in the privacy of their home. Upon arrest, IRGC agents ransacked their home, took all their passports, bank account statements, and birth certificates; smashed the art pieces in their home on the spot, and accused them of a litany of charges based on their normal, private lifestyle. Afarin’s personal belongings, such as jewellery, documents and photo albums, family heirlooms, their cars and basically everything of value were confiscated. They have been sentenced to lashes and have spent time in prison for having “alcoholic beverages”, “inappropriate CDs,” “inappropriate artwork,” “playing cards”, “feminist videos” in their home, and “showing and selling distasteful art against Islamic values”, — all of which can be found in uncountable homes of residents of Iran, and none of which is forbidden inside the home of a Zoroastrian.

To be a religious or national minority is not a crime. The State must cease encouraging slander and suppression of non-Shia, differing Shia, non-secular and secular citizens of Iran.
Humanity and freedom, the rule of law should protect and not criminalize citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion. 
Free Karan and Afarin!

Karan’s family is well known for their love of their country and kindness towards all.

Mehrangiz Firoozgar, our mother, loved her country. She handed out flowers and sweets the day that the Shah left Iran. Although she was later imprisoned for 7 months for being a Zoroastrian and subject to Jaziyeh (Islamic tax on non-Muslims), she continued living in Iran.

Goshtasb Firoozgar, our grandfather, was a Mughanni (traditional engineer in qanat and irrigation) and electrical work was his craft. The patches of land he worked on and bought during his lifetime at practically nil value outside of Tehran, in Vanak, became more and more valuable over the years as Tehran expanded.

Goshtasb Firoozgar was a kind man who endowed the well-known Firoozgar Research and General Hospital to the Ministry of Health in 1954 to provide medical services to the needy. After he passed away from cancer, our mother, Mehrangiz Firoozgar, a midwife, was elected as the representative of the family to the supervisory board of Firoozgar Hospital. She worked as a pro-bono midwife, devoting her life to women in need in Tehran and other cities in Iran.

Our eldest brother, Professor Kasra Vafadari, like the rest of the family, supported and took part in the 1979 revolution against the Shah’s dictatorship, which was brought to power by the US with the 1953 coup d’├ętat. Kasra’s dream was to work among young Iranians and fellow Zoroastrians. To learn from them and to teach them what he had learned from his years of research and study abroad. During the first years of the revolution he worked as an assistant professor at the formerly Melli, now Shahid Beheshti University.

During the first days of the revolution Kasra became a member of neighborhood committee Basij at Saeed-Abad (outside Tehran) where he lived with his family at our small family-owned dairy farm, until he was pushed out of the organization for being a Zoroastrian.

In later years, Kasra left his teaching position at Paris University at Nanterre to return to his beloved Iran. He helped and encouraged Iranian youth to discover and understand their roots through study groups in music, theatre, and art. He was adored by the many of the youth who joined his programs. During these years, and during a trip to visit his family in Paris, he was murdered in his sleep in his apartment by a knife stab in his heart. All he had done was to shine light on the ancient history of Iran and the traditions of Zoroastrians. The assailant culprit was an Iranian, arrested and tried in Europe, who had a background in the IRGC. Under Iranian Sharia law, a religious minority being murdered by a Muslim is viewed as expendable and of little concern.

The Iranian government portraying Karan and Afarin as representatives of wealth is a hoax and a hollow justification for suppression.

During the Asiatic history, for over a millennium prior to the 20th Century, Zoroastrians (with the exception of few traders) subsisted on the periphery of the society. This generally applied to all non-Muslims in the old urban setting. During the modern era, the old state authority and landed aristocracy evolved into land ownership—purchase and sales—led by the Shia Muslims (Makaseb) and the merchants.

Since mid-20th century, the ownership of land in urban areas procured by Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sheikhieh, Baha’i and in part Sunnis became common. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the Iranian government targeted the minority owners to seize their properties. This policy and practice continues to this day and is evidenced by imprisonment and sentencing of Karan and Afarin and the seizure of all their properties.

After many years, Karan had finally obtained a court ruling to vacate the IRGC from an office building which he had inherited. The building was arbitrarily leased by the Jihad for Construction (a government organization created after 1979) since the early years of the Revolution. The office building was finally vacated when the IRGC occupied it by force and moved in. Upon securing a vacate order against the IRGC, Karan was arrested and framed with all kind of false charges.

Karan Vafadari, an Iranian-American dual national, was born into a Zoroastrian family in Iran.

Karan is father to three children, two sons and one daughter, who live in the United States. Karan's three children are worried and long to see their father again.

Karan attended Alborz High School in Tehran. He continued his studies in the US and received his Bachelor of Science from New York University in Computer Science. He received a Master’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1987. In 1989, he received his MBA in Business Administration and Management from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. 

About 15 years ago, when Karan was traveling between Iran and US to take care of our elderly mother, he met Afarin in Iran.  Karan and Afarin were married in 2002 in a civil court in the State of Nevada.

Afarin is an architect who owns and runs Aun art gallery. The gallery has been shut down and officially sealed ever since their arrest in 2016. Aun Gallery was established in Tehran in 2009 in accordance with all official rules and necessary 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, they also hold a permit from the Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance, for Hookht publishing, “Aun Negarestan” (publication for contemporary visual arts) with the aim of promoting Iranian art and culture in Iran and at the international level. 

Karan and Afarin have devoted their lives to promoting Iranian art and culture in Iran and beyond and are respected for their hard work and contributions to the contemporary Iranian art scene.

More than a year and a half ago, in July 2016, Mrs. Nayssari was arrested by the IRGC Intelligence Organization at Tehran’s airport when she was about to board a plane to travel to Europe to participate in an art show. Karan received a call from his wife, Afarin, and when he went to meet her, he too was arrested. Ever since, they have been kept in the notorious Evin prison. The pattern of arrest and incarceration speaks volumes on the treatment of citizens who have done no wrong and are going about their everyday life. Karan writes on behalf of Afarin and himself about their “illusion in fairness, justice, legality and/or independence of the judiciary system of Iran”.
Karan and Afarin were arrested without warrant or charges. The Iranian Government and Judiciary does not provide any independent and impartial tribunal. Government, Judiciary, and the security apparatus have a total disregard of the law. They have not had any public hearings. Court sessions are closed to the public and the press. The right to choose their own lawyer does not exist. Their appointed approved attorney, which is now hired by Karan and Afarin, does not have the right to speak in the court. The lawyer cannot report the proceedings or the charges leveled by the state or present the defense offered by the defendants.

The support of the Iranian public, the people of the Middle East and, the citizens of the world is Karan and Afarin’s only hope.
The truth must come out and justice demanded for Karan and Afarin.
Free Karan and Afarin!

Kateh Vafadari
February 2018