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Continued Imprisonment of Americans Calls Attention to Broader Ideological Crackdowns

Kerry’s comments came one day ahead of the date that marks four years of imprisonment for Hekmati, who traveled to Iran in 2011 to visit his grandmother and was arrested on unsubstantiated charges of espionage. In his original trial, he was sentenced to death, but the Iranian Supreme Court overturned the sentence and he was subsequently given ten years imprisonment for “practical collaboration with the United States.”

The US government and Hekmati’s family maintain his innocence and no evidence has publicly been brought against him by Tehran. In this way his case is similar to that of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who is currently awaiting an overdue sentence on national security crimes. He is reportedly facing 10 to 20 years in prison and his case is being handled by a judge who is infamous for harsh sentences. But Rezaian’s defense attorney has said that the case file presents no evidence against him.

Coincidentally, Rezaian’s imprisonment also saw a major milestone this week, as Wednesday marked 400 days since he was arrested alongside his wife and fellow journalist Yaheneh Salehi. His family released a statement to coincide with his 400th day, in which they cited apparently deliberate and persistent delays in the case as evidence in support of their believe that Rezaian “is being used for political purposes and that the allegations against him are completely baseless.”

Naturally, advocates for Amir Hekmati have similarly concluded that his imprisonment was politically motivated, even if only by Iran’s deep-seeded enmity for Western powers and especially persons affiliated with the American military. This same topic was brought into focus earlier in the week when Saudi Arabia announced that it had arrested the terrorist believed to be the mastermind of a 1996 bombing that killed 19 US airmen and was reportedly organized and directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Meanwhile, recent new from inside Iran highlights the political use of the Iranian judiciary beyond its targeting of Western nationals. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Friday that Bahareh Hedayat, a prominent women’s rights activist, was illegally sentenced to an additional two years imprisonment this month, after she had already finished serving her sentence for peaceful activism during the 2009 Green Movement.


The International Campaign notes that Hedayat is the longest serving prisoner from the Green Movement, and that this may be in part because she is widely considered to be a major symbol of the Iranian student movement. The additional sentence is thus viewed as a purely punitive measure, aimed at preventing her from returning to activism as a free woman.

The report on the implementation of this new sentence details several ways in which it violates Iran’s own laws. The new sentence was not handed down until five days after an order had been issued for her release. In the interim, she was kept behind bars on no charges whatsoever.

The Iranian court system is regularly criticized for violating its own laws in pursuit of political ends, and sometimes the results are considerably more tragic than in Hedayat’s case. For instance, the Human Rights Activists News Agency reported on Wednesday that a 30 year-old Kurdish man named Behrouz Alkhani had been executed despite the fact that an appeal of his case was still ongoing in the Iranian Supreme Court.

The perpetrators of the execution reportedly showed further signs of malicious intent by refusing to release his body to his family.

An Amnesty International statement about the execution declared, “The fact that the authorities have carried out the execution despite the pending appeal against a sentence imposed in a grossly unfair trial and international pleas to halt the execution, shows their utter disregard for justice.”

Alkhani’s execution and Hedayat’s imprisonment are likely aimed at similar goals of demonstrating clear intolerance of dissent. Reports from within Iran have recently highlighted a series of hardline policies and security crackdowns that many attribute to an effort to curtail any push for moderation in the face of expanded relations with the West following the Iran nuclear deal.

Furthermore, the sectarian divisions stemming from the rise of ISIS have helped to make Kurdish separatism and activism for Kurdish rights more activism, as evidenced in part by violent clashes in the city of Mahabad following the alleged killing of a Kurdish woman by an Iranian intelligence agent.

As Iran works against these elements of dissent and even rebellion, it also appears to be directing some efforts at opposition figures and organizations abroad. The Associated Press reported on Friday that research by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs had uncovered evidence of new hacking efforts originating in Iran and directed at obtaining access to the accounts of Iranian dissidents.


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