California man imprisoned in Iran is blocked from legal counsel as health worsens, daughter says

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A State Department spokesperson expressed disgust this week with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s refusal to release the imprisoned California resident Jamshid Sharmahd, who is being held in Iran as his health condition worsens and without legal counsel.

“We will work with our allies, many of which have citizens currently detained by Iran, to seek their citizens’ release and stand up to the disgraceful practice of using unjust detentions of foreign citizens as a political tool,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News on Tuesday.

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The clerical regime of Iran detained the 66-year-old Sharmahd in July 2020 while he was staying at the Premier Inn Dubai International Airport Hotel. Sharmahd’s Parkinson’s disease and diabetes have since worsened, according to his daughter.

Iranian state TV aired video footage in August 2020 of him appearing to confess, while blindfolded, to a 2008 terrorist attack in Shiraz, Iran, that left 14 dead and more than 200 injured.

Gazelle Sharmahd, the software engineer’s daughter, told Fox News that after the abduction, Iranian regime “propaganda outlets” broadcasted a “forced confession” in which her father “admitted to a crime that he did not commit.”

The regime frequently tortures political prisoners, for example the champion wrestler Navid Afkari, who it subsequently executed, to secure coerced confessions.

Gazelle said her father has rejected his Iranian regime-appointed lawyer.

“Nothing they are doing is legal,” she continued. “We want our father to be released. He was kidnapped. They have to let our lawyer and embassy see him. He is not a dual-national.”

Regime authorities contend Sharmahd, who left Iran at age 14 for Germany, is an Iranian citizen. Sharmahd has lived in California since 2003 and holds German citizenship.

Gazelle said her family is “very worried” because her father has been in “solitary confinement for 10 months, which is inhumane, especially for someone who is 66 with Parkinson’s.”

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She gave birth to a girl on Dec. 31, 2020, and said the situation is “killing us” because her father is “not going to see her.” The baby, Jamshid’s first grandchild, is named Kiana (“elements of nature,” i.e.: earth, wind, fire, etc., in Persian).

The Islamic Republic accused Sharmahd of membership in the exiled pro-secular monarchy group Tondar, which seeks the overthrow of the radical Islamic state founded by Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. Tondar means “thunder” in Persian.

California man imprisoned in Iran is blocked from legal counsel as health worsens, daughter says

Gazelle said paid agents of the Islamic Republic sought to assassinate her father in California in 2009 because of his opposition activities, including his radio talk show.

The 2009 assassination plot garnered widespread media attention, and resulted in the conviction of Mohammad Sadeghnia, who arranged the planned murder, according to the Wall Street Journal.

When asked about the German government’s efforts to secure Sharmahd’s release, the foreign ministry in Berlin told Fox News, “The federal government has repeatedly advocated for German prisoners in Iran and will continue to do so. In this context, we will continue to strive for consular access to the person concerned. As a rule, however, Iran does not grant consular access to prisoners who also have Iranian citizenship.”

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The ministry added that “for reasons of privacy protection, we cannot provide any further information on individual consular cases.”

Critics argue that Germany’s largely pro-Iranian regime policies have not helped political prisoners. 

“The German government should understand the basic duty to its citizens is to secure release of German nationals being held hostage by the despotic Iranian regime, as in the case of Jamshid Sharmahd. Germany is a key participant in the Vienna [nuclear] talks and has the opportunity to demand hostage release from the Iranians, as does the U.S. In reality, Western powers should have demanded release of their hostages before even being willing to sit down for negotiations with the Islamic Republic in Iran,” Ellie Cohanim, the former U.S. deputy special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism and who was born in Iran, told Fox News.

The Vienna talks are being held between Iran’s regime and world powers, with the aim to bring the U.S. and Tehran back into the highly controversial nuclear deal that is supposed to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

Germany stands to benefit from expanded trade with Tehran. Berlin has remained Iran’s most important European business partner for decades. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has not objected to the sale of German dual use technology (military and civilian) to Iranian businesses that has been used in Iranian chemical missiles against Syrians.

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When asked whether the German government agrees with the U.S. State Department that the detention of Sharmahd constitutes a “disgraceful practice of using unjust detentions of foreign citizens as a political tool,” the foreign ministry in Berlin said it does not comment on the statements of other governments.

Gazelle Sharmahd expressed disappointment with the German responses, saying, “It is your [the German government’s] obligation to defend your citizens.” She welcomed the U.S. statement as “great” because the American government is prepared to “back up” its allies. She added, however, that the State Department has not reached out to her.

Lisa Daftari, an Iranian-American journalist and foreign policy expert, told Fox News that the world powers involved in the atomic talks in Austria “should have demanded that all Western hostages be freed before heading to Vienna. Leaders from the U.S. and Germany cannot comfortably sit at the negotiating table with the Iranian regime knowing that Jamshid Sharmahd and many others like him are sitting in jail, being used as hostages and symbolic pawns in the mullahs’ political power plays.”

She continued, “In the name of solely focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, the West has allowed Iran to continue getting away with its reprehensible human rights abuses against its own people as well as its hostages and likewise, remain the world’s greatest sponsor of terror with no retribution.”

Jason M. Brodsky, senior Middle East analyst at Iran International, a London-based news organization, told Fox News, “It’s the responsibility of the U.S. and Europe to prioritize these cases. I was disappointed not to see any mention of this malign practice in the U.S.-EU statement, following the Brussels [NATO] Summit. It was solely focused on the nuclear deal, and this sends the wrong message to Tehran.”

The detainment of Sharmahd revealed once again the Iranian regime’s long-standing practice of targeting dissidents active outside the country, including the journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was abducted in 2019 and executed by the regime in 2020.

The Iranian human rights expert Roya Boroumand, who is the co-founder of the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, told Fox News, “Obviously this abduction, that of Zam, and the disappearance of [Frood] Fouladvand before him and the more recent assassinations outside Iran shed light on a dangerous situation and it is urgent for democracies to be more vocal.

“Not only to convey serious concern to Iranian leaders about Jamshid Sharmahd who is at serious risk of execution without due process, the same fate as five alleged members of his organization, but because impunity for abductions can only lead to more abductions of Iranians and non-Iranians,” she continued.

While Germany’s government faces accusations of passivity regarding Sharmahd’s dire plight, some opposition parties in the Bundestag are raising their voices. The office of the Free Democratic Party Bundestag deputy Bijan Djir-Sarai has been contact with Gazelle and  is preparing an application to open an official inquiry about human rights in the Islamic Republic that includes her father’s case.

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German Green party motion in September 2020 cited Sharmahd in the context of demanding that Iran’s regime comply with international human rights norms: “The German-Iranian Jamshid Shahrmahd, who lives in the USA, was kidnapped from Dubai by the Iranian secret service, according to statements by his family, and forced into Iranian custody under torture,” the motion notes.

Fox News sent press queries to the governments of Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, but no response was received by press time.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal