Iran arrests third US-Iranian — report

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has arrested a third US-Iranian accused of being a “CIA agent” linked to US efforts to topple the country’s clerical authorities, a hardline newspaper said on Wednesday.

The Kayhan daily said Ali Shakeri, who works for a US “peacebuilding” non-governmental organisation, was linked to the same charges that have already resulted in the detention of fellow US Iranians, the scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh.

A fourth US-Iranian, journalist Parnaz Azima, has been charged with the same offences but remains at liberty.

“Ali Shakeri’s arrest, the third prosecution of ‘Velvet Agents’ in the past month, can reveal the hidden ties between opposition groups seeking to overthrow the regime and so-called reformists inside the country,” it said.

Iran’s judiciary has refused to confirm that Shakeri is detained, despite reports by the US media and New York-based Human Rights Watch he has been arrested.

Kayhan accused Shakeri of being a “CIA agent who has officially supported overthrowing the Islamic republic in interviews with opposition media and seeking to implement a secular state in Iran.” The paper, the mouthpiece of Iran’s clerical rulers, also alleged that Shakeri was “financially dependent on American organisations.” Shakeri is a California-based businessman who also works for the Centre for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, a body aiming to prevent conflict and violence across the world.

He was supposed to leave Iran and fly to Europe earlier this month but never arrived at his destination, reports have said.

Kayhan’s accusations against Shakeri mirror the paper’s previous attacks on Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, which anticipated confirmation from the judiciary they were being held for “acting against national security and espionage.” Azima, who works for the US-funded Persian arm of Radio Free Europe, remains free although her passport has been confiscated and she cannot leave Iran.

All have been linked by the authorities to alleged efforts by the Soros Foundation of US billionaire George Soros to instigate a “Velvet Revolution” in Iran, similar to the peaceful end to communism in Eastern Europe.

The United States has rejected the allegations as “absurd” and demanded their immediate release. But Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, insists it is an internal matter.

The US State Department has complained that Tehran has refused to officially inform the US government of the arrests and denied the detainees consular access through the Swiss embassy, which looks after US interests in Iran. 

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