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Iranian-American Citizen Sentenced To 18 Years In Prison For Espionage

Iranian-American citizen Robin Shahini (file photo)

A dual Iranian-American citizen sentenced to 18 years in prison for insulting the Islamic republic and engaging in espionage for the United States was convicted based on his social-media posts, according to a close acquaintance.

Robin Shahini, who has been jailed in Iran since July and was reportedly sentenced by the country's judiciary this week, had a speedy trial and was convicted based on "no evidence except for a few Facebook and blog posts," the U.S.-based acquaintance told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on October 24.

The source's observations, which were based on a telephone call with Shahini after the trial, were shared on condition of anonymity.

"We're still in a state of shock," the acquaintance said of Shahini's sentencing, which followed his arrest this summer while visiting family in northern Iran. "We expected him to be sentenced to prison, but not 18 years."

The U.S. State Department said it was "troubled" by the second conviction of an Iranian-American in a week.

"We are troubled by reports that Robin or Raisa Shahini, a person reported to be a U.S. citizen, may have been convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

"We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease arbitrary and politically motivated detentions, and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all criminal prosecutions, consistent with its laws and its international obligations."

Last week, an Iranian-American businessman and his 80-year-old father were sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison for espionage.

The source said Shahini's family would appeal his conviction.

Aside from the reported charge of espionage, Shahini was also sentenced for "insulting sanctities," according to the acquaintance. That charge can include a number of offenses, such as criticizing Islam or principles of the Islamic republic.

Speaking by telephone, the source said that the trial lasted only three hours, and that all in all Shahini's lawyer only had about 15 to 30 minutes to defend his client.

"Out of the three hours, [the judge presiding over the trial] was away for one hour, apparently to pray, then it took them one hour to fill in the forms and write down details such as his name and last name."

Hunger Strike

The information provided to RFE/RL echoed Shahini's description of his sentencing in an interview published by Vice News on October 24

He told the media outlet by telephone from prison that he "just laughed" upon hearing his sentence, and denied being involved in espionage.

"Whatever information they had is all the pictures I posted in Facebook, in my web blog, and they use all those evidence to accuse me," Shahini told Vice News, explaining that from afar he had supported the Green Movement protesting the results of the 2009 elections, but was a supporter of current President Hassan Rohani.

He said he plans to go on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

Shahini, a graduate student in the United States, was detained by security forces while visiting his sick mother in northern Iran.

He left Iran in 1998, went on to gain U.S. citizenship, and has lived in San Diego for 16 years.

Conservative Judiciary

Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, and considers all Iranian nationals to be solely Iranian citizens.

Over the years, this has resulted in the imprisonment of numerous dual nationals upon their return to Iran. In January, four U.S. citizens were freed by Tehran as part of a prisoner swap with Washington, and a fifth was released separately. The releases were announced as Iran was found to be in compliance with a July 2015 nuclear deal with the West that was intended to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

Since then, Tehran has imprisoned several dual citizens, including Iranian-Austrian businessman Kamran Ghaderi and Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi. The Namazis were sentenced last week to 10 years in prison each for "collaborating with a hostile government."

Shahini's sentencing by the conservative-dominated judiciary, which is under the authority of the supreme leader, is considered to be part of a power struggle between the government of relatively moderate President Rohani and conservatives who oppose opening the country to foreign influence following the nuclear deal.

Written by Golnaz Esfandiari based on reporting by Mirali Hosseini from RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Vice News, with reporting by AFP and Reuters.
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