On June 27, 2020 Kurdish environmental activist Afshin Sheikholeslami Vatani was arrested by security forces affiliated with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence at his family home in Sanandaj.
His sister, Negin Sheikholeslami Vatani told Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN): “This morning about 9am, five armed security personals of Iranian Ministry of Intelligence entered my parent’s home and without any explanation arrested Afshin. Then they searched our home for three hours and turned the entire house upside-down. My mother objected to their action but they took my brother away without any explanation.”
Negin Sheikholeslami Vatani also said: “both of my parents are very sick and Afshin is their only caregiver, if anything happens to them, I will hold the Islamic Republic responsible for their deaths.” Afshin’s mother had been hospitalized for months after he was first arrested in 2019.
This marks the second time that Mr. Sheikholeslami has been arrested in the past two years. He was arrested on February 17, 2019 along many other environmental activists and members of Kurdistan branch of the National Unity Party which is legal in Iran. He was released on 5 billion Rial bail after one month of imprisonment. According to the Iranian judicial system Sheikholeslami and four other defendants were sentenced to three months and one day of imprisonment for “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran” but the sentence was commuted due to the spread of coronavirus and time served.
Sheikhoeslami who is a legal United States resident has not been able to return to U.S. since the second branch of Iranian Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj had confiscated his passport and prohibited his travel outside the country.
Sheikhoeslami’s arrest comes at a moment when the second wave of coronavirus has taken a heavy toll in Sanandaj and COVID-19 is known to be present in Sanandaj’s prison.
In the past Afshin Sheikholeslami Vatani has been detained and interrogated by Iranian regime multiple times. In one occasion he was detained alongside other activists who were present in Habibollah Latifi’s house following an attempt to stop Latifi’s execution. Latifi’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment as a result of such human rights defenders activism. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International condemned arrest of Sheikholeslami at that time.