Opinion

Iranian Hard-Liners Claim Visiting American Was Opposition James Bond

Kenneth Timmerman President, Foundation for Democracy in Iran

Why has yet another American been taken hostage in Iran? Hard-liners in Iran predictably are claiming he was a U.S. spy–and now are saying he was also an agent of the exiled opposition.

Gholamreza “Robin” Shahini traveled to Iran this May to visit his family in the northern city of Gorgan just days after graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in international security and conflict resolution. He had gone back to school after years of running a pizza shop, and was 46 years old when intelligence ministry agents burst into his mother’s home, presented a search warrant, and took him into custody.

For two weeks, his girlfriend in the United States, who was in contact with his family in Iran, had no news what had happened to him. The search warrant presented to Reza’s family accused him of unspecified “crimes against the state.” The LA Times cited a friend who speculated on Facebook that he might have been detained because of online comments criticizing the human rights record of the Islamic regime.

The Iranian regime continues to arrest U.S.-Iranian dual nationals despite the hostage swap and ransom payment last January. Shahini is the third U.S.-citizen currently held in Iran. The regime has also arrested Canadian and British citizens in recent months.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his spokesperson, John Kirby, apparently just wish Shahini would go away. Both have refused to answer questions from reporters and did not return calls asking for comment.

“All I hear from Secretary Kerry is ‘human rights, human rights,’ and yet when an American citizen is taken hostage in Iran, what do they do? Nothing,” Shahini’s girlfriend told TheDC.

Shahini’s arrest was first reported on July 21 and publicly acknowledged by the regime three days later.

But it wasn’t until last Wednesday (Aug. 10) that his lawyer was allowed to visit him, after he had a medical emergency. “Robin has severe asthma and they took away his medication,” his girlfriend said. “I sent all that information to the lawyer. He is allergic to cigarette smoke. So then they put him in the place in the jail where all the criminals go to smoke!”

Shahini told his lawyer that his interrogators were accusing him of being a spy for the United States.

A hard-line Iranian internet publication published on Friday two photographs of Shahini, apparently taken from his laptop, which had been seized by the authorities. The first shows him shaking hands with former president Abolhassan Banisadr in Banisadr’s residence in Versailles, France. The second shows him at a conference table to Reza Pahlavi, son of the former shah.

The article claims that Reza was “commissioned by the National Council to reconcile Bani Sadr to the Pahlavis.” The article also claimed that Reza traveled to Iran at the request of the U.S. intelligence services “on a mission from the U.S. government… to create chaos in the country.”

The full name of Reza Pahlavi’s organization is the Iran National Council for Free Elections. It promotes reconcilation and cooperation among all democratic factions of the Iranian opposition.

Neither Banisadr nor Reza Pahlavi has confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, and Shahini’s girlfriend told the DC that he had never been a supporter of either politician. But a 2009 trip to Iran during the Green Movement protests “was a turning point for Robin” and made him more aware of the human rights situation inside Iran.

The regime has been on an execution spree in recent weeks, on some days killing as many as five political prisoners, many of them Kurds, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

In an ominous development, Shahini’s family say he has been placed in the Quarantine ward in isolation from other prisoners. Families of other political prisoners note that they have been called to visit their loved ones in the isolation ward shortly before they were executed.

Timmerman’s latest book, Deception: the Making of the YouTube Video Hillary and Obama Blamed for Benghazi, is now in its 4th printing. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work on Iran.