A German-Iranian dissident facing the threat of the death penalty in Tehran has been allowed to call his family from solitary confinement for the first time in seven months, his family said on Friday.
Jamshid Sharmahd has been kept in isolation at a secret location since he was snatched by Iranian agents while travelling to India in August 2020, they said.
His family believe a growing public campaign, greater efforts by the German government to secure his release and the near conclusion of talks about resuming the 2015 nuclear deal in Vienna all contributed to persuading the Iranian authorities to let him call his family.
Mr Sharmahd, a US-based critic of the regime, has been accused of involvement in a 2008 mosque bombing in Iran that killed 14 people. He has denied any involvement in the attack but is currently standing trial without independent legal representation.
He has a variety of health problems and has been left with only two teeth, he told his wife in a telephone call lasting a few minutes on his 67th birthday this week.
“We don’t know if they knocked his teeth out or they fell out because he was not getting any sunlight or vitamins,” his daughter Gazelle Sharmahd said from the US.
He told his wife during the short call this week that he had been interrogated daily and forced to sign documents. His family do not know where he is being held and he warned them that if they asked any questions, he would have to hang up.
The software engineer complained of high blood pressure, shortness of breath and difficulties walking because of the lack of space to exercise in his tiny cell.
He said he was not receiving his medicine on time, a similar complaint to other dual citizens held in Iran. He needs medicine every three hours for Parkinson’s disease.
“His voice was very, very weak,” said his daughter. “I’m very afraid for my dad’s health even if they don’t give him the death sentence.”
Mr Sharmahd built the website for the Kingdom Assembly of Iran — or Tondar — a US-based group that sought the overthrow of the Iranian regime and replacement with the monarchy.
The group claimed responsibility of the 2008 mosque attack on the website. Iran claims Mr Sharmahd headed its militant wing but his family say he has never been involved in terrorism.
Mr Sharmahd was previously 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.
His family have pinned their hopes on him being released as a condition of the US resuming the 2015 nuclear deal. The US said this week there were only a small number of issues outstanding before an agreement could be wrapped up.
Some 20 foreign and dual citizen 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.
Human 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”.