DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American art dealer and his wife to prison for being Zoroastrians, a New York-based rights group said Wednesday, marking the latest case of Tehran imprisoning dual nationals.
Art dealer Karan Vafadari was sentenced to 27 years in prison, while his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssar, who has permanent residency in the US, received a 16-year sentence, the Center for Human Rights in Iran said.
The sentences have yet to be reported in Iran. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The two were reportedly arrested by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in July 2016. Little information has come out about their case since then.
Early Wednesday, the Center for Human Rights in Iran said it had received a letter dated January 21 that Vafadari wrote to it from Tehran’s Evin prison. In it, Vafadari said he was sentenced “last week” to prison by Judge Abolghassem Salavati of Tehran’s hard-line Revolutionary Court. The charges included holding mixed-gender parties and having alcohol, both of which are supposed to be protected for Zoroastrians.
Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison
Vafadari said he and his wife were sentenced under a law allowing for properties of dual nationals to be seized and sold at auction. He said his work in the art world “raised the suspicions” of the Guard’s intelligence unit. The sentence also included lashes and a fine.
“Fortunately, the initial, baseless security accusations that led to our arrest were dropped, but our gallery, office, warehouses and home remained locked and our cars, computers and documents were confiscated, followed by accusations and interrogations that indicated a deeper plot,” he wrote.
He added that the sentences mean “my wife and me, and every one of you dual national Zoroastrians who returned to your country to invest in the homeland you love, are always going to be in danger of losing your assets and forced to leave the country.”
Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islamic ancient religion in Iran that is in theory protected under the Iranian constitution. However, its adherents can face discrimination in Iran, whose government is overseen by Shiite clerics.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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