Two Iranian-American Art Dealers Jailed in Tehran Have Been Freed on $10 Million Bail

Karan Vafadari and Afarin Neyssari were sentenced in January on espionage and other charges.

Karan Vafadari, an Iranian-American national and his wife Afarin Niasari. Courtesy Center for human Rights in Iran.

Gallery owners Afarin Neyssari and Karan Vafadari have been released on bail from Tehran’s Evin Prison according to a Facebook post published by Vafadari’s sister Kateh on Saturday.

The two, who own Tehran’s Aun Gallery, were arrested in July 2016 for espionage, possession of alcohol, and “dealing in indecent art,” among other charges, and were sentenced in January this year to 27 years behind bars for Vafadari, and 16 years for Neyssari. (The charges were later reduced.)

“They were told that in two weeks they would be either recalled to give further explanations or issued a final verdict,” their US-based son Cyrus Vafadari told the Center for Human Rights in Iran of the release.

Anonymous sources told the Art Newspaper that their bail was set at $10 million.

Vafadari and Neyssari are part of Iran’s Zoroastrian minority. Vafadari has written that he was trying to reclaim land expropriated from his family in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when he was jailed. In a letter to supreme leader Ali Khamenei from December 2, 2016, spotlighted by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Kateh had alleged that her brother and his wife had been arrested “to fabricate a case for the purpose of extortion and property seizure.”

Prior to their arrest, the couple were regulars in Tehran’s art and social scenes and regularly hosted parties with alcohol and foreign guests at their lavish home. Their jailing shocked Tehran’s intelligentsia and attracted a huge outpouring of support from both Iranian and international art worlds. A petition for their release attracted more than 15,000 signatures.

Even though the principles were behind bars, the Aun Gallery has continued to operate successfully. The gallery’s Italian-Iranian artist Bizhan Bassiri even represented Iran at the 2017 Venice Biennale in spite of the imprisonment of the gallery owners.

According to the Art Newspaper, in an Instagram post by fellow Tehran gallerist Salman Matinfar (currently set to private), the dealer said other dual nationals and Iranian expats will think twice before returning because of this case. “Many Iranians with dual nationalities have returned to Iran to start a business to contribute to their motherland for a brighter future. What happened to this couple gives many of these contributors cold feet.”

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