SDSU student sentenced to 18 years in Iranian prison

by Will Fritz, Senior Staff Writer

Gholamrez Robin” Shahini, the San Diego State graduate who was detained in Iran in July, was sentenced to 18 years in prison by an Iranian judge on charges relating to espionage, collaboration with a hostile government and blasphemy, his friend Sevil Suleymani said on Oct. 25.

The Iranian interests section of the Pakistani embassy did not respond to a request for confirmation of the arrest.

Shahini, 46, was arrested on July 11 while visiting family in his hometown of Gorgan, Iran, after graduating from SDSU in May 2016 with a degree in international security and conflict resolution. He was planning to register for a Homeland Security master’s program at SDSU at the time of his arrest.

Shahini told HBO’s Vice News in a phone interview from prison, he laughed when he heard about his sentence.

Suleymani said the sentence, as well as the situation, was unexpected.

“It’s really, like, shocking. I don’t know how to even react,” Suleymani said. “It sounds like a nightmare. I feel I am dreaming still, and I’m just going to wake up and everything is done.”

She said Shahini was targeted because of posts he made online that may have been critical of the Iranian government.

“All of the evidence are just Facebook pages and his blogs, that’s it,” Suleymani said.

As of Oct. 25, Shahini’s two Facebook pages were taken down.

Suleymani and Denera Ragoonanan, another friend of Shahini’s, speculated in August that the Iranian government was forcing him to take down his social media profiles.

Shahini left a voicemail  on Suleymani’s phone from prison and said he decided to travel to Iran “to make his family happy” before his visit was interrupted when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard arrested him.

In the voicemail, he said his trial was “invalid” and that Iranian authorities’ notion of the United States as a hostile government was incorrect, before giving the Iranian government an ultimatum.

He said he will go on a hunger strike until he is released if the Iranian government does not free him within a few days.

“I will neither drink water nor eat any food,” he said. “If I die in this way, I would like to be buried in the United States of America.”

A state department official issued the following statement when asked for comment on the matter:

“We are troubled by reports that Robin Shahini, a person reported to be a U.S. citizen, may have been convicted and sentenced to eighteen years in prison.

We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease arbitrary and politically-motivated detentions and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all criminal prosecutions consistent with its law and international obligations.

As we’ve said before, the Secretary raises the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens anytime he meets with Iranian officials.  Beyond that, we’re not going to get into the specifics of those conversations.

However, we continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas.”