The curious case of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri

Why celebrate Shahram Amiri upon his return as a loyal patriot then quickly detain him? Why was he executed when the judiciary sentenced him to prison?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The story of Iranian defector Shahram Amiri is still unclear. Why did he return from the United States to Iran if he had important secrets that jeopardized his life? Why did Iranian officials receive him with warm and extensive media coverage at the airport if they had evil plans for him? Why did they quickly arrest him for treason after celebrating him at the airport as a respectable patriot? Why did they sentence him to 10 years in jail and then execute him?

There are large Iranian communities outside Iran, and most have good education and a good economic situation. Most have chosen to live in exile or were born there, and refuse to return or even visit because they do not trust the regime, which greatly resembles the totalitarian governments of the Middle East, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s, the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s, and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s.

The number of Iranians in exile is estimated at five million, the largest number of exiles by choice in the world. Hundreds of thousands fled following the 1979 revolution, and thousands continue to leave. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranks Iran among the top countries suffering from brain drain.

Why celebrate Shahram Amiri upon his return as a loyal patriot then quickly detain him? Why was he executed when the judiciary sentenced him to prison?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

It seems Amiri was banned from traveling because of the sensitive nature of his job as a nuclear scientist. This is why he exploited Hajj to escape supervision, and headed from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Iran condemned Saudi Arabia, which responded that it is not responsible for monitoring pilgrims and does not have the right to force them to choose their destinations.

When Tehran claimed that Amiri was kidnapped in Saudi Arabia, he appeared publicly in the United States and said he was there of his own accord. He later surprised everyone when he appeared at the Pakistani embassy and spoke on TV, claiming he was detained and prohibited from traveling to Iran. Due to this embarrassing situation, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Amiri willingly came to the United States and could leave whenever he wanted.

Motivations

His return to Tehran was depicted as a victory, but he was arrested days later, tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His family says he was executed five years later and buried in Kermanshah. Most probably, the reason for his contradictory statements and weird behavior is that Tehran threatened to murder his family if he did not return. It allegedly threatened to murder his son, who was next to him at the press conference after he returned.

Iran initially said Amiri was not a significant figure or a nuclear scientist, as he claimed. They then said he was an intelligence officer who deceived the Americans and convinced them he was a nuclear scientist to learn what U.S. intelligence was doing with defectors.

All these lies are understandable, but why celebrate him upon his return as a loyal patriot then quickly detain him? Why was he executed when the judiciary sentenced him to prison? The Iranian spokesperson did not convince anyone when he said Amiri deserved to be punished because he exposed important secrets to the Americans.

Did imprisoning and executing him aim to intimidate Iranians and deter frequent information leaks? Many secrets of Iran’s nuclear facilities and military activities have been voluntarily exposed by employees of these institutions.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 8, 2016.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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