An Iranian court sentenced Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Neyssari (who has an American permanent residence permit) to prison for espionage and other charges, a US-based law group said on Wednesday. The couple will be held since July 2016.
Iranian gallery tourist sentenced to 27 years in prison and 124 lashes
Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Neyssari are accused of espionage and possession of alcohol.
Referring to a letter that Vafadari wrote from prison on January 21, Iran’s New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said he had a sentence of 27 years in prison, 124 lashes, a $ 243,000 fine, and confiscation of all got his possessions. Neyssari, an architect, was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The couple owns the Aun Gallery in Tehran, which describes itself as “the first private art space designed and built to show contemporary art.” Together they formed the art and social scenes of Tehran, regularly hosting parties with alcohol and foreign guests at their sumptuous home. In his letter Vafadari claims that the cosmopolitan lifestyle and the western ties of the couple have attracted the attention of the authorities.
As Zoroastrians, an ancient pre-Islamic religious minority, the couple is theoretically not subject to Iran’s strict Islamic laws regarding alcohol consumption and the organization of mixed gatherings. However, the dealer noted in his letter that this did not prevent the court from sentencing him to another 18 months, 64 lashes and $ 38,000 for drinking wine; three years and $ 162,000 for accepting alcohol gifts from diplomats and foreigners; and 15 years for holding parties at his home.
In his letter, Vafadari condemned the harsh punishments as “unjust and tyrannical” and said that the “accusations and interrogations” he was going through “gave a deeper plan”.
In the words of the Wall Street Journal, son Cyrus of Vafadari described the legal process as “opaque” and said that his father and stepmother would appeal to argue that they, as Zoroastrians, are allowed to drink alcohol and hold mixed parties through the Iranian constitution. .
US media speculate that the rigor of the sentences indicates that the Iranian government has orchestrated the punishment to use as a means of exchange for the release of prisoners to liberate Iranian citizens in the US. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has already indicated that Iran would consider an exchange agreement for prisoners.
In a statement, the US Department of State said that they are aware of the conviction. “We call for the immediate release of all US citizens unjustly detained and missing in Iran, and we continue to raise the cases of US citizens unjustly detained and missing in Iran in our contacts with the Iranian government,” said an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.