SANANDAJ, Iran (North Press) - More than a week after US pemanent resident and environmental activist Avshin Sheikhoslami Vatani was arrested by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, his whereabouts and fate are still unknown, his family members said on Monday.
“We heard from him last on the day of his arrest on Saturday,” Vatani’s sister Negin told North Press.
The environmental activist, an American permanent resident of Kurdish-Iranian origin, returned to his home country “to take care of our sick and elderly parents. He is their sole caregiver,” his sister added.
“He is an environmentalist and is engaged in cultural activities, I don't know why [Iran] is so afraid of people like him and keeps arresting them at cost of destroying our families,” Negin told North Press when asked why the Iranian government would have any reason to arrest Vatani.
“He is [a] very kind brother, he is brave and wise and he is always there for me,” she added.
Iranian law mandates that those arrested must be informed of the crime with which they are being charged within 24 hours of their arrest, they must receive a trial, and maintain the right to visits with lawyers and family members in prison.
But these rights are often violated within the Iranian justice system, particularly when intelligence services are involved.
“He is a good friend and really kind person. I don't know why Iran has arrested him. He has a passion for environment and likes to take care of living beings. If it wasn't for the love of his parents, he wouldn't return to Iran,” one of Vatani’s personal friends told North Press.
Vatani was arrested in late June by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence at his family’s home, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network.
He was previously arrested along with several other environmental activists, and served a one-month prison sentence in 2019.
The US State Department declined to comment on Mr. Vatani’s case.
Vatani was first arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents in Sanandaj in 2003 and given a one-year prison sentence for the charge of “propaganda against the state,” which was suspended for three years. Two years later he was arrested again and served the full sentence.
His second arrest took place in 2011 when he participated in a rally in front of Sanandaj Central Prison to protest the death sentence against Kurdish political activist Habibollah Latifi.
He was charged with “disturbing public order” and held in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center for three weeks before being released on bail. Since January 2018, dozens of environmentalists have been arrested in Iran in a widening crackdown by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC’s) Intelligence Organization.
(reporting by Lucas Chapman; Editing by Hisham Arafat)
[An earlier version of this report referred to Vatani as a US citizen; he is in fact a permanent resident of the US and not a citizen]