Woman wins $36 million claim over Iran prison torture

Businesswoman says she was tortured and threatened with execution at Evin jail

A guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison. Reuters
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A US judge has ordered Iran to pay $36 million to a US-Iran dual national who was whipped, beaten and threatened with rape during attempts to torture her into confessing membership of the CIA at the country’s notorious Evin jail.

Asfaneh Azadeh, a businesswoman based in the UAE, spent 114 days at the prison in 2012 under brutal conditions and was on several occasions made to believe she was about to face a firing squad, according to US court papers.

The case – which was not contested by the clerical regime – followed some 100 US court judgments against Iran and its proxies for terrorism over the last 20 years, according to US lawyer Stuart Newberger who has fought a number of cases involving victims of state-sponsored violence.

The businesswoman, 49, was living in Dubai when she was arrested at Tehran's international airport after travelling to meet her Iran-based fiancé to finalise their wedding plans, according to court papers seen by The National.

She was taken to Evin prison where she was accused of working for the CIA to foment anti-regime activities. At least nine US-Iranian dual nationals have been detained and falsely accused of espionage in the last decade, Hadi Ghaemi, director of the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told the court.

Ms Azadeh was interrogated every day for six weeks, pushed down a flight of stairs and left with a dislocated shoulder. She was whipped by one jailer who told her “he enjoyed seeing her suffer,” according to court documents. At one point she was falsely told that her mother, who lived in Iran, had died. Her fiancé was also detained.


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During the sustained period of torture, she was twice blindfolded, bundled into a car and lined up against a wall.

“She heard instructions being given to a firing squad to fire after which she heard several gun shots,” the court papers said. “The last thought she had was: ‘I am going to die and no one will know’.

“Her life flashing before her eyes, she lost consciousness and collapsed.”

She was released after signing a false confession about membership of the CIA but had to remain in Iran under the terms of her release. A few weeks later she was run down by a car that mounted a pavement in an episode that Iranian prosecutors hinted had been arranged, the documents said. She split from her fiancé because of her detention and later moved to the US.

She believes she was held because her employer, aviation cargo company HeavyLift International, had contracts with the US Department of Defense for troop support operations. The company’s head, US Iranian aviation executive Farhad Azima, is currently locked in a legal battle with Ras Al Khaimah’s investment authority, Rakia, in the UK and US, over a long-running business dispute.

Iran’s status as an international pariah will mean that Ms Azadeh, 49, will be unable to enforce her claim for damages against the regime. She is expected to lodge her claim with a US government-run fund that paid out $1.1 billion to victims of state sponsored terrorism in 2017 but is likely to secure less than one-tenth of the overall amount, said experts.

The fund is part-funded by penalties imposed on companies for breaking the sanctions regime targeting Iran. In 2017, some 2,300 victims and families received up to $3 million, according to State Department documents.

“There are probably more than 100 court judgements against Iran for terrorism. Some of them are very large cases arising from supporting Hezbollah and terrorism in Lebanon,” said Mr Newberger.

Ms Azadeh and her legal team declined to comment.