San Diego resident said to receive 18-year sentence in Iran
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An IranianAmerican held in Tehran has reportedly been sentenced to 18 years in prison for “collaboration with a hostile government,” another dual national convicted in a secret trial since Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The sentence handed down to Robin Shahini, a 46-year-old graduate student who lives in San Diego, is the harshest yet for those detained in what analysts believe is hard-liner plan to use them as bargaining chips in future negotiations.
Shahini told Vice News in an interview aired late Monday that he “just laughed” after hearing his sentence. He acknowledged supporting the protests that followed Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election, but he denied being involved in any sort of spying.
“Whatever information they had is all the pictures I posted in Facebook, in my web blog, and they use all those (as) evidence to accuse me,” he said in a telephone call from prison.
Iranian judiciary officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday nor did Iran’s mission to the United Nations.
In a statement, the State Department said it was troubled by reports of Shahini’s sentence.
“We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease arbitrary and politically moti- vated detentions and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings,” it said.
Shahini, who traveled to Iran to see his mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, was detained July 11. He left Iran in 1998 and has lived in San Diego for 16 years. He graduated in May from San Diego State University with a degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution.
Shahini’s girlfriend, who also lives in San Diego, said she spoke to him after he received word of his sen- tence. “We both just cried,” she said. “We didn’t know how to react. It was just a joke or nightmare, I didn’t know what to call it.”
The girlfriend asked not to be identified because she has family in Iran and fears for their safety.
Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, meaning that those it detains cannot receive consular assistance.
Analysts and family members of those detained in Iran have suggested that hard-liners in the Islamic Republic’s security agencies want to negotiate another deal with the West to free the detainees.
A prisoner exchange in January that freed journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans also saw the U.S. make a $400 million cash delivery to Iran the same day. The payment of that cash, part of a $1.7 billion settlement of a decades- old arbitration claim between the United States and Iran, has drawn criticism from Republicans who describe it as a ransom payment.