Daughter of jailed Iranian dissident recounts hellish two years since her father was kidnapped
Jamshid Sharmahd faces the death penalty for “outrageous” charges while family pleads his case before governments and rights groups
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by Nicole Jansezian | June 27, 2022
Jamshid Sharmahd with his wife and daughter (Photo courtesy)
Gazelle Sharmahd awoke in Los Angeles to discover a slew of new “fantasy” charges had been filed over night against her father – who was brought before an Iranian court last week unbeknownst to anyone until it happened.
“My dad had his fourth trial today,” Sharmahd told ALL ARAB NEWS in a phone interview last week during a whirlwind day of media calls and after a hellish two years of mystery and horror surrounding the disappearance of her father.
She and her family were not informed about this latest trial, a modus operandi which has been par for the course of his incarceration in Iran, going on 22 months now.
“They do that on purpose so that watchdog organizations that monitor trials don’t know – so there is no lawyer and no defense,” she explained. “These are supposed to be public trials which means they are announced in advance and open to the public.”
The official charge against Jamshid Sharmahd is “corruption on earth” which is, essentially, war against Islam, for which the penalty is death.
“Even the lawyers we hired are not allowed in, not allowed to see the files. They are practically banned,” from working on the case, Gazelle said.
The Sharmahd family nightmare began nearly two years ago when Gazelle’s father found himself stuck overseas while on a work trip, unable to get to his family in the U.S. or even to Germany during the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020. Flights were canceled and borders were slammed shut around the world.
An Iranian who found exile in Germany after the revolution, Jamshid Sharmahd had been living in the United States for the past 20 years. But he fell on hard times financially and in late 2019 set out for India to drum up clients for his software company.
In what turned out to be unimaginably bad timing, the COVID-19 pandemic began a few months after and left Jamshid in limbo bouncing between Asian countries and canceled flights. Finally in August 2020, Jamshid made it to Dubai for a final flight to get him home.
He spoke to his wife who fretted that he was precariously close to Iran so he turned on location services on his phone to allow his wife to track his whereabouts as he made his final journey home.
Then, he went dark.
“He went completely radio silent after that, after having spoken with him every single day,” Gazelle said. “After three days, on the 31st (of July), my mother got a message from him, ‘I’m okay, I will contact you.’”
The family did not believe it was actually written by Jamshid.
“On Aug. 1 we got the news – the Islamist regime published a video of him blindfolded, swollen, confessing to crimes he didn’t commit,” Gazelle said. “We thought he was dead.”
And then, they heard nothing from him for nine months.
“We cried for a few minutes, then we started calling anyone and everyone we knew,” Gazelle said. “I even called Interpol. There is no playbook on what you’re supposed to do when a government kidnaps your loved one. If a private person tries to kidnap you, you go to the police.”
If you read Iranian-regime run state media, Jamshid was arrested on charges of terrorism. But according to his phone’s GPS, it appears that Jamshid was kidnapped in Dubai and ferried illegally into Iran.
But Gazelle pleads with readers not to read the government propaganda.
“All of the allegations are absolute lies, absolutely outrageous,” she said. “Instead of getting to the real issue – that my dad is human rights activist and he used his voice to speak on behalf of the people of Iran, to publish news – and yet, now he lost all his rights.”
Iran accused Jamshid of terrorist activities related to a 2008 attack that occurred in Iran, though he was abroad. One year later, Jamshid was the subject of an assassination attempt thwarted by local police and the FBI in California.
Jamshid was on the Iranian’s radar because he built and managed a website, Tondar – an open platform on which Iranians could post from underground, anonymously.
“People were able to publish news uncensored – the only place it was uncensored. Even he would not censor it no matter what they wrote,” he said. “He would just put it out and talk about these things and that is a huge threat to the Islamic regime.”
“You can see now with the protests – they first thing they do is shut down the internet,” she said.
Currently in an undisclosed Iranian jail since August 2020, Jamshid has spent 700 days in solitary isolation, lost most of his teeth, lost 40 pounds and is not getting medication for Parkinson’s. He has developed chronic pain, shortness of breath and high blood pressure. Also, his diabetes is back. All of these are grave human rights violations.
Gazelle said her mother was able to ascertain these things in the four phone calls she has been allowed with her husband since his kidnapping.
Jamshid Sharmahd and his daughter Gazelle (Photo courtesy)
IRGC – A HISTORY OF KIDNAPPINGS
The kidnapping of Iranian dissidents by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is an all too familiar tactic of the group which terrorizes Iranian dissidents living abroad.
As of January 2021, “Since coming to power in 1979, the Iranian regime, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been implicated in more than three hundred sixty assassinations, terrorist plots, and terrorist attacks in more than forty countries. This does not include arrest, torture, and killing of thousands of political activists or journalists inside Iran.”
A branch of Iran’s regular army, the IRGC is charged with “safeguarding” the Islamic Republic. “It is rigidly loyal to Iran’s clerical elite. The IRGC is Iran’s mail link to its terrorist proxies, which the regime uses to boost Iran’s global influence,” according to this article.
“The IRGC is an Iranian government agency tasked with defending the regime against internal and external threats. The IRGC uses secret police methods against its opponents within Iran, and terrorist tactics against its enemies abroad.”
Kidnappings and attempted kidnappings have taken place everywhere from Iraq to the United Kingdom and the United States. As recently as in March, an IRGC cell was caught while attempting to kidnap the wife of an Iranian dissident in Armenia, according to local police. In Turkey, members of the IRGC were detained for trying to kidnap or kill Israelis.
What’s more, the IRGC is on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
However, the international response to these kidnappings has been tepid at best. Recently released British citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, expressed distrust in the government that took six years to get her back from an Iranian prison while other families, including that of Morad Tahbaz, expressed devastation that he was not included in that prison swap. In Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, the British government is believed to have paid $530 million for her release along with another British citizen.
Some human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have highlighted these cases.
“Amnesty said there was an urgent need for the international community to step up efforts to prevent and prosecute hostage-taking amid growing evidence that Iranian authorities are holding others unjustly. It highlighted at least seven cases of dual nationals currently held in Iran, including Swedish-Iranian Ahmadreza Djalali, Austrian-Iranians Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb and German-Iranians Nahid Taghavi and Jamshid Sharmahd.”
A German org has started a petition in hopes of rallying awareness and pressure for Jamshid’s release. The petition is addressed to Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister. As of this writing, 75,142 people have signed.
“It is of the utmost importance that the federal government act immediately to prevent the planned state assassination of Mr Sharmahd. We urge that the matter be given top priority, that a crisis management team be set up, and that the German government exhaust all political and diplomatic avenues to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. A general condemnation of the death penalty and a call to respect human rights are not enough. We urge you to take immediate, serious and sustained action to save the life of the 66-year-old German citizen and his family from this horrific act.”
Jamshid Sharmahd with his children when they were young (Photo courtesy)
HOW IS THE FAMILY COPING?
With the specter of a death penalty looming over their lives, Gazelle said she chooses life.
“They only got my dad into their prison,” she said. “If we break down over here, they get us too. I am free, my daughter is free and my mom is free and we are going to continue to do anything we can for my dad.”
She turns to laughter, which she credits for getting their family through many trying times they’ve faced fleeing a regime and building a new life in two foreign countries.
“Waking up and seeing a huge article of fantasy stuff – laughing is all you can do,” she said of the new charges added to her father’s file.
But reality challenges her resolve on a daily basis – “Motherhood is a 24-hour job and fighting for my dad is a 24-hour job,” she admitted – and the perpetual stress can be taxing.
Not only that, but her advocacy puts her in the crosshairs as well. She and her brother compiled two videos which went viral to draw attention to their father’s plight including one recently on Father’s Day.
“Every time I do an interview and go public and say something I am completely aware of the threat,” she said. “What my dad taught me is that, of course there is fear, but that should not be what holds you back from doing what is right.”
“I am his voice now,” just like he was the voice for dissidents who reported from Iran, she said.
With all of the dual national hostages, “you see all of them have the same wild accusations,” Gazelle noted. That – plus the lack of a free press – is one way to know the charges are fabricated.
“It has been going on for too long, going to the extremes of kidnapping dissidents abroad which they’ve been doing now extensively,” she noted.
This, however, gives Gazelle hope.
“Seeing that the regime has to go to these extremes is a glimpse of hope, and seeing that people are still going to the streets in Iran,” she said. “Iranians have not lost their spirit and heart to fight. They need people behind them. We should not go numb to them.”
“Talking about it, exposing the truth is the biggest part,” she said.
Gazelle said she welcomes prayers from readers of this article and urges everyone to sign the petition.
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