Iran’s former ambassador to Azerbaijan Mohsen Pakayeen on Monday condemned the US for arresting Iranian university professor Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, describing it as a severe violation of human rights and freedom of expression, the Tehran Times reported.
“The move has no legal basis, and the arrest of university professors and international relations experts is completely contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of the press and is an instance of human rights violation,” Pakayeen told the Fars news agency.
The US Department of Justice last week reported a criminal complaint that was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn charging Afrasiabi with “acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).”
Afrasiabi was arrested last Monday at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, and appeared last Tuesday in federal court in Boston before US Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal.
John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, issued a statement saying that “for over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran. However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda. In doing so, he intentionally avoided registering with the Department of Justice as the Foreign Agents Registration Act required. He likewise evaded his obligation to disclose who was sponsoring his views. We now begin to hold him responsible for those deeds.”
According to the DOJ, Afrasiabi’s columns appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, and HuffPost. He also appeared on Chinese and Russian state media in the US. His writings matched perfectly Iran’s positions on all world affairs, and many of his columns were written in consultation with Iranian diplomatic staff. Afrasiabi also helped write an April 2015 column in the New York Times by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme. “This Office is committed to the robust enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which provides the American people the tools they need to evaluate opinions and arguments in the marketplace of ideas by requiring foreign agents to declare their paymasters. Those, like the defendant, who conceal the full extent of their work for a foreign government when the law requires disclosure will face consequences for their actions.”
“Our arrest of Kaveh Afrasiabi makes it clear that the United States is not going to allow undeclared agents of Iran to operate in our country unchecked. For more than a decade, Mr. Afrasiabi was allegedly paid, directed, and controlled by the Government of Iran to lobby US government officials, including a congressman; and to create and disseminate information favorable to the Iranian government,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bonavolonta. “The FBI will continue to do everything it can to uncover these hidden efforts and hold accountable those who work for our adversaries to the detriment of our national security.”
According to the complaint, from at least 2007 to the present, Afrasiabi has been secretly employed by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats assigned to the Permanent Mission of the IMUN. Afrasiabi has been paid approximately $265,000 in checks drawn on the IMUN’s official bank accounts since 2007 and has received health insurance through the IMUN’s employee health benefit plans since at least 2011.
In the course of his employment by the Iranian government, Afrasiabi has lobbied a US congressman and the US Department of State to advocate for policies favorable to Iran, counseled Iranian diplomats concerning US foreign policy, made television appearances to advocate for the Iranian government’s views on world events, and authored articles and opinion pieces espousing the Iranian government’s position on various matters of foreign policy. Afrasiabi has long known that FARA requires agents of foreign principals to register with the US Department of Justice and has discussed information obtained from FARA disclosures with others.
Nevertheless, Afrasiabi did not register as an agent of the Government of Iran.
After Afrasiabi’s arrest, Alireza Miryoussefi, the spokesperson for the Iranian Mission to the UN, accused the Trump administration of anti-Iran “bigotry and bias.” He lamented that “it is unfortunate to hear of the arrest of Dr. Afrasiabi on spurious charges, in the waning hours of the Trump administration, which is well-known for its anti-Iranian bigotry and bias.”
Miryoussefi stressed that “Dr. Afrasiabi has not been working as an agent of the Mission and only as a university professor and an expert on international relations.”
And yet, according to the DOJ, in January 2020, Afrasiabi emailed Iran’s Foreign Minister and Permanent Representative to the United Nations with advice for “retaliation” for the US military airstrike that killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the external operations arm of the Iranian government’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, proposing that the Iranian government “end all inspections and end all information on Iran’s nuclear activities pending a [United Nations Security Council] condemnation of [the United States’] illegal crime.”
Afrasiabi suggested that such a move would, among other things, “strike fear in the heart of [the] enemy.”
Afrasiabi has admitted in his own communications that his extensive body of published works and television appearances, in which he has consistently advocated perspectives and policy positions favored by the Iranian government, has been attributable to the funding he receives from the Iranian government. For example, in a July 28, 2020, email to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Afrasiabi included “links for many of [my] works, including books, hundreds of articles in international newspapers and academic journals,” telling Iran’s Foreign Minister, “Without support, none of this would have been possible! This has been a very productive relationship spanning decades that ought not to be interrupted.”