Iran Imprisons Zoroastrian Iranian-American Art Dealer, Wife

A U.S.-based rights group says Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American art dealer and his wife to lengthy prison terms for being followers of the Zoroastrian religious faith.

The announcement by the nongovernmental group, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, is the latest case of a dual national being imprisoned by Iran after a closed-door hearing before the country’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Court.

The group says art dealer Karan Vafadari was sentenced to 27 years in prison while his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received a 16-year sentence. It says Neyssari has permanent residency in the United States.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran says it obtained a letter sent by Vafadari from Tehran's notorious Evin prison in which he denounced the prison sentences as "unjust and tyrannical."

It says the letter was dated January 21 and that Vafadari wrote he was sentenced the previous week at Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran for being a Zoroastrian dual national.

He said that his sentence also included 124 lashes and a fine equal to $243,000.

The sentences have yet to be reported in Iran.

Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request from the Associated Press news agency for comment.

In the letter, Vafadari wrote that the court granted him "the honor of being the first Iranian to be convicted under Article 989 of the Civil Penal Code."

"It means my wife and me, and every one of you dual national Zoroasatrians who returned to your country to invest in the homeland you love are always going to be in danger of losing your assets and being forced to leave the country," Vafadari wrote.

Article 989 of Iran's Civil Penal Code says foreign nationalities obtained by any Iranian citizen after 1902 "without the observance of the provisions of law" will be considered "null and void" and the person will be "regarded as an Iranian subject."

It also says all of the person's "landed properties will be sold under the supervision of the local public prosecutor."

"Unfortunately, my international activities [in the art world] raised the suspicions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' intelligence organization," Vafadari wrote.

He said the initial "baseless security accusations that led to our arrest were dropped, but our gallery, office, warehouses, and home remained locked and our cards, computers, and documents were confiscated."

He said those moves were followed by accusations and interrogations that "indicated a deeper plot."

With reporting by AP