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Deported Iranian Doctor With Links To Basij Back In Iran

Seyed Mohsen Dehnavi said he and his family were treated "very badly." (file photo)

An Iranian medical researcher who was prevented from entering the United States to work at a Boston hospital has returned to Iran amid accusations that he's been involved in working for the notorious Basij force.

Seyed Mohsen Dehnavi and his family were detained shortly after arriving in Boston on July 11 and later sent back to Iran.

"The U.S. government, with the new restrictions on Iranians, did not let us enter although the goal of our trip was scientific and our research was aimed at saving cancer patients," Dehnavi said on Iranian state television on July 13.

Dehnavi said he had been granted a U.S. visa earlier this year.

But U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said on July 12 that Dehnavi's detention was for "reasons unrelated" to President Donald Trump's executive order banning entry to the United States to most people from six predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.

Malin added that Dehnavi's entry refusal was based on information uncovered during a review by the Customs and Border Patrol and that foreigners can be denied entry on several grounds, including criminality, security concerns, and health-related issues.

Dehnavi was quoted on July 13 by Iranian state television as saying that he and his family were treated "very badly" by the U.S. Border Patrol agency during their detention at Boston's Logan International Airport.

In TV footage on July 13, a smiling and relaxed-looking Dehnavi was seen speaking to reporters along with his wife and three young children.

Footage of Dehnavi on state TV showed him to be the same person identified in videos as the head of the Basij force at Tehran's Sharif University, where he had studied for several years.

He had also campaigned for ultra-hard-line presidential candidate Said Jalili in the 2013 presidential election.

Former Sharif University students told RFE/RL that Dehnavi had been active in efforts to pressure pro-reform students and government critics. They said he was actively working for the Basij in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential election.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the allegations. Several attempts to contact Dehnavi for comment about his work with the Basij were unsuccessful.

Iranian state media did not mention Dehnavi's Basij background in their coverage of his detention in the United States. They referred to Dehnavi, who is in his early 30s, as a "prominent" medical researcher.

Sorna Satari, Iran's vice president of science and technology, criticized Dehnavi's detention and deportation in a statement published by Iranian news agencies. He said Dehnavi had been prevented from entering the United States due to "unconventional excuses."

"Although these types of incidents won't affect the path of the country's researchers and scholars, it would result in discouragement in scientific cooperation among researchers," said Satari, who heads Iran's National Foundation for the Elite.

Dehnavi was due to conduct cancer research at Boston's Children Hospital. Satari suggested that cancer patients would suffer as a result of Dehnavi's deportation.

Satari said Iranian scientific institutions should feel responsible for researchers who face similar problems and do all they can to support them in their scientific activities.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.