Iranian-American Gallerists Accused of Attempting to Overthrow the Government Will Head to Trial in Tehran

Authorities called their art collection 'unethical and inappropriate.'

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

Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari, owners of the Aun Gallery in Tehran who have been incarcerated for months, are set to face trial next week for a number of egregious charges including “assembly and collusion against national security,” “recruiting and signing up spies through foreign embassies,” and “attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Vafadari’s sister, Kateh, runs a blog detailing the latest developments in the case. Yesterday, she posted a petition to free her brother and his wife ahead of their trial on April 17, calling for “leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that the trial is open to the public with the presence of independent press and representation by national and independent international lawyers and a jury of their peers.”

While Kateh describes the couple as “Two patriots devoted to presenting Iran’s independent art,” the state has a contrary opinion of Vafadari and Nayssari.

In August, Jafari Dowlat-Abadi, Tehran’s Prosecutor General, described their home as “a center of immorality and prostitution,” and condemned them for having co-ed gatherings and serving alcohol in their home. (While alcohol is banned for Iranian Muslims, non-Muslims may drink—Vafadari is Zoroastrian.)

Original charges were initially dropped due to lack of evidence, but were reinstated by notorious judge Abolqasem Salavati at a hearing last month, during which the couple was denied legal counsel.

The couple have also been accused of peddling “un-ethical and inappropriate art,” and associating with non-Iranian clients. Furthermore, the authorities have gone as far as refusing to recognize their civil marriage—they are dual nationals of Iran and the US, and got married in the US.

Tehran gallerists

Iranian women inmates sit at their cell in the infamous Evin jail, north of Tehran, 13 June 2006. Photo courtesy ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images.

The couple was first jailed in July 2016. Authorities searched their home and gallery, where they destroyed and confiscated artworks upon their arrest. They have since been held in the Evin Prison, which has a wing for political prisoners, and subjected to solitary confinement and interrogation. Intelligence officials also allegedly attempted to recruit Nayssari as a spy, worsening her imprisonment conditions when she refused.

Their family kept the situation under wraps in hopes it would blow over, but when their names were publicized late last year, several people made phone calls to the family attempting to extort money from them. The Center for Human Rights in Iran reported in December, when the family decided to go public.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization and the country’s judiciary system have been criticized for perceived attempts at intimidating Iranian nationals who also hold citizenship in western countries.

The executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, explains: “With complete impunity, the Guards and their accomplices in the Judiciary are destroying the lives of innocent people…They grab people and throw them into prison without any evidence or the ability to defend themselves, and then hand-pick a judge who will press home the attack with a conviction and harsh sentence.”


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