Another American has been detained in Iran: a San Diego man named Gholamrez “Robin” Shahini, 46, was reportedly taken prisoner on July 11 for the offense of criticizing the theocracy’s human rights record online.
The Associated Press reports that Shahini was in Iran to visit his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, shortly after graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution, on track for graduate studies in Homeland Security.
It is not clear whether his educational path influenced Iran’s decision to incarcerate him. Friends and family quoted in the AP article, and a Los Angeles Times report, speculate that Iran arrested him for using his Facebook page to criticize the regime’s human rights record.
Shahini’s last communication with his girlfriend – who told the AP she fears for the safety of her own family in Iran – was on July 10. There was no indication of trouble at the time, but according to the Times, Iranian intelligence agents took Shahini into custody at his mother’s home on July 11, seized his belongings, and placed the rest of his family under surveillance.
Contact with Shahini’s sister appears to have been lost, while Shahini’s cousin Mohammad, who lives in the Bay Area, reports that Shahini relatives in Iran have been warned by the authorities not to speak with the media.
The AP quotes Shahini’s girlfriend saying he was scheduled to fly home on July 25 and begin his graduate classes on August 22.
“He’s majoring in international security, so his passion involves peace and justice, human rights. He’s open about being a human rights advocate. But it’s not only limited to Iran, he’s also posted about other countries, too,” she said.
“Robin has been known for his advocacy of human rights on social media. This advocacy, unfortunately, has not sat well with the Iranian government,” his friend Denera Ragoonanan added, from her own Facebook page.
In a telephone interview with the Times, Ragoonanan said “he just disappeared off the face of the planet, no one knows if he’s alive or dead.”
She noted that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, treating Iranian-Americans as “Iranians subject to Iranian law.”
“They don’t need evidence to arrest American-Iranians. They simply suspect them of being American spies or dissidents, and if there’s the slightest negative piece of information about them they’ll arrest them,” terrorism expert Robert Baer told the Associated Press.
AEI notes that Iranian officials “have neither confirmed nor denied” Shahini’s arrest, although prosecutors in Tehran have announced the recent arrests of at least eleven unnamed people on characteristically vague charges, specifying only that one of them is Lebanese, and three others are dual nationals. It is not clear if Shahini is counted as one of the dual nationals in question.
Shahini’s family and friends have contacted the U.S. State Department, which as of Friday morning would say only that it is looking into the reports of his arrest, without making any further comment.