Family urges diplomats to secure deal with Iran to save dissident’s life

Jamshid Sharmahd is believed to have been snatched by Iranian agents

US resident Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian dissident with his daughter Gazelle, faces the death penalty in Iran after being accused over a 2008 attack on a mosque. Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd

A German-Iranian dissident faces the death penalty in Iran unless diplomats strike a deal to free foreign political prisoners in Iran during talks in Vienna to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, according to his family.

Jamshid Sharmahd, 66, is in solitary confinement at a secret location after being snatched by Iranian agents 18 months ago. He is accused of involvement in a mosque bombing that killed 14 people.

His family said they had not heard from him for six months before Iranian media disclosed he was standing trial this month for “corruption on Earth” after years of dogged pursuit by the Iranian regime.

He is due back in court next month, when he could learn of his fate after a sham trial over the 2008 attack on a mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran.

His family say he had nothing to do with the mosque attack and that he was defended at an unfair trial by a state-appointed regime lawyer, who demanded $250,000 from his US-based family to represent him, his daughter Gazelle told The National.

“Prisoners have rights, even in Iran,” she said. “But this is an ongoing kidnapping.”

Mr Sharmahd is believed to have been snatched in August 2020. He had previously been the target of an assassination plot in the US.

Jamshid Sharmahd with his wife Mehrnoush and daughter Gazelle. Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd

The family believes he was taken to Iran. He appeared on state media blindfolded the same month, making a confession.

He was then shown dressed in a striped prison uniform on February 6, facing charges that carry the death penalty.

The release of dual-national prisoners is reportedly part of the deal under discussion in Vienna to resume the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement that former president Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.

Some 20 foreign and dual national prisoners — including from the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Sweden and Austria — are held in Iran, most detained while visiting family or conducting business. Most have been jailed on national security charges that their governments say are fabricated.

But the software engineer has been an outspoken critic and built the website for the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, or Tondar, a US-based group that sought the overthrow of the regime and replacement with the monarchy.

The group claimed responsibility of the 2008 mosque attack on the website. Iran has claimed that Mr Sharmahd headed its militant wing but his family say he has never been involved in terrorism.

He has been pursued by Iran since his role with the opposition was revealed more than a decade ago when a technical glitch accidentally showed his company’s role in the website design.

Mr Sharmahd was targeted in a 2009 assassination plot at his home in California, but the plot was foiled when a member of the team confessed to police. An Iranian government agent later pleaded guilty to paying a hitman $32,000 to kill Mr Sharmahd.

Activists accuse Iran of abducting regime opponents in a bid to put them on trial in Iran on charges that could see them sentenced to death, such as France-based Ruhollah Zam who was executed in December 2020.

Rights group Amnesty International said Mr Sharmahd was at risk from a “grossly unfair trial” and had been detained in circumstances “akin to enforced disappearance”. Two men identified by Iran as members of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran were executed in 2010 following anti-regime protests.

Until six months ago, Mr Sharmahd had been able to call sporadically to the US but could provide no details about where he was owing to the presence of 10 guards, said his daughter. His health was rapidly deteriorating and he needed medicine every three hours for Parkinson’s disease.

His family say his best hope is for US and European governments to demand his release along with other foreign and dual national prisoners as a condition of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Negotiations are reportedly entering their final stages in Vienna.

Mr Sharmahd, who gained German citizenship after his family moved there when he was 7, has lived in the US since 2003.

“The US has already said that there should be no successful talks until the hostages get released,” said Ms Sharmahd. “I want the same from Germany which is sitting at the table with my dad’s kidnappers and talking about the nuclear deal.”

Updated: February 23, 2022, 8:25 PM