MESA Task Force on Civil and Human Rights and MESA Committee on Academic Freedom Statement on the Circumstances of the Arrest and Detention of Iranian Materials Scientist Dr. Sirous Asgari
The Middle East Studies Association Task Force on Civil and Human Rights and the Committee on Academic Freedom join together in expressing our shock and outrage at reports concerning the arrest and detention of Iranian materials scientist Dr. Sirous Asgari. According to a widely-circulated and very detailed article, Dr. Asgari was apparently the victim of an operation by the United States government designed to entrap him, coerce him into espionage, prosecute him without valid cause and, ultimately, detain him on false pretenses, possibly as a bargaining chip to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Iranian government.
The reported details of Dr. Asgari’s case include not only the issuance of a deceptive visa, the fabrication of outlandish charges, prolonged criminal detention and prosecution, but then—after he was acquitted in federal court—an apparently retaliatory transfer of Dr. Asgari to immigration detention by the FBI. The terrifying odyssey of detention in the hands of competing authorities in the United States, reportedly often without recourse for weeks or months to any form of review, highlights the injustice to which Dr. Asgari—who traveled in June 2017 to the U.S.—was subjected. But it also underscores the horrific circumstances and conditions to which tens of thousands of individuals are routinely subjected by the callous and broken immigration detention system to which federal officials regularly consign people seeking asylum, pursuing valid claims for residency and in other circumstances that do not warrant confinement under international human rights laws to which the United States is a party. The squalid conditions of immigration detention and the negligence with which immigration officials have exposed detainees to the risk of infection in the midst of a pandemic reportedly resulted in Dr. Asgari contracting COVID-19 during his unwarranted detention. That he was eventually freed in June of this year (after three long years) as part of a prisoner exchange only serves to support the view that he was subjected to this ordeal as a bargaining chip.
MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom regularly reports on cases of scholars being subjected to unlawful detention and denial of procedural protections in Iran (see, for example, here, here and here). Dr. Asgari’s case suggests that the United States government may be engaging in similarly lawless conduct, which we deplore.