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Iranian Scientist Kept in US Jail without Trial for over 1 Year

Over one year has passed since the FBI jailed renowned Iranian stem cell scientist Professor Massoud Soleimani in a US prison but no trial has yet been held for him.

Soleimani has been imprisoned in the US without trial since October 07, 2018.

Last October, Soleimani, a professor and biomedical researcher at the Tarbiat Modares University (TMU) in Tehran, was arrested by the FBI upon his arrival in the US.

According to his Atlanta attorney, Leonard Franco, he has since been held behind bars in a jail in Atlanta without bond.

Soleimani had been invited by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for leading a research program there, but he was secretly indicted by the FBI, which also canceled his research visa. Neither the FBI nor the US prosecutors have so far officially commented on his detention.  

BJay Pak, the US attorney in Atlanta, secured Soleimani’s indictment on June 12, 2018, just a month after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, and Soleimani had been fully unaware of such an indictment when he flew to the US.

Franco and Page Pate, another Atlanta lawyer, said that they had been puzzled by the federal government’s decision to prosecute a renowned Iranian professor and two of his former students – Mahboobe Ghaedi and Maryam Jazayeri – for purported trade sanction violations over eight vials of human growth hormone.

Franco said that Soleimani’s treatment by federal authorities, the revocation of his visa and the decision to detain him without bond doesn’t square with Soleimani’s international reputation as a scholar, professor, and doctor widely known in the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Soleimani has no criminal history anywhere in the world, he added.

The hormone, which is a form of synthetic protein, was seized from Jazayeri in 2016 by customs authorities in Atlanta when she was heading to Iran to give it to professor Soleimani for research purposes. Jazayeri had received the hormone from Ghaedi.

The seizure occurred at a time when Washington was still a signatory to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and anti-Iran sanctions had not been re-imposed yet.

The growth hormone is not banned in the US or Iran and was being used “exclusively for medical research”, which is still considered largely exempt from US sanctions, Franco said.

However, Ghaedi and Jazayeri faced similar federal charges for attempting to supply Soleimani with the growth hormone.

Ghaedi is a permanent American resident and an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine. She is free on a $250,000 bond. Jazayeri is a naturalized US citizen and Kentucky resident and has conducted medical research at the University of Louisville. She is currently free on a $200,000 bond.

“I truly don’t understand it,” Franco said of the government’s decision to prosecute, adding that it appeared to be “some type of policy argument”. Pate, who represents Jazayeri, said his client was “completely confused by all this.”

Motions to dismiss the charges are pending in federal court in Atlanta in front of US District Judge Eleanor Ross. However, Federal prosecutors in Atlanta have not yet responded to the motions.

Hearing this case has been adjourned for at least three times since October and his family and the TMU have so far paid $70,000 to his lawyers to prove his innocence, but all to no avail, said TMU’s Vice-chancellor for Research Affairs Yaghoub Fathollahi.

Fathollahi added that Soleimani is a distinguished professor who has been ranked among the top 1% scientists in the world.

Iranian Science Minister Mansour Gholami said in August that the US remains adamant to arrange a court session on the case of Soleimani who has been kept in jail since October, voicing concern over Washington’s disrespect for law.

“Unfortunately, no court session has been held for Dr. Masoud Soleimani in the US so far and apparently, it is postponed intentionally and unfortunately, the exact date for his trial has not been decided and we hope that the situation of this professor will come to light and he will be freed as soon as possible,” Gholami said.

He blasted the US for arresting Iran’s scientific elites, adding that the detentions happened within a plan and were not accidental.

In relevant remarks last month, President of Tarbiat Modares University in Iran Mohammad Taqi Ahmadi blasted Washington for long-time jailing of Soleimani, saying that the US had violated even its own laws.

“The US laws say that long-term detention without holding a court session is not possible and is a violation of the law; the Iranian university lecturer has been under detention for over 11 months and therefore, the US has violated its own laws,” Ahmadi told FNA.

He also voiced concern about Soleimani’s health conditions, saying that Iran’s interest section in Washington had been rejected access to the detained Iranian scientist, and had not even been allowed to deliver Soleimani’s vitally needed medication to him due the existing restrictions.

Ahmadi said that in addition to Soleimani, several other Iranian academics were also jailed by the US.

Soleimani’s brother, Rasoul, said in September that he had likely been imprisoned for rejecting cooperation in a highly important research project for the US several years ago, and was under pressure to cooperate with the United States.

“Some 7 years ago, he traveled to California for a research project, and there he received some charming offers, but turned them down,” Rasoul Soleimani said.

“As far as I know him, he will not accept cooperation with the US even if he is kept in prison for a lifetime,” he added.

Also, earlier this month, Massoud’s wife voiced concern about the inhuman behavior towards her husband in the US jail, saying that he was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome with no access to his needed drugs.

“The conditions of my husband have been unfavorable in the past 11 months. Dr. Soleimani needs to receive special medicine for suffering irritable bowel syndrome but the US government refrains from providing him with them,” Mahnaz Rabiyee said.

She added that Dr. Soleimani had lost 15kg of his weight in prison due to the stress he was experiencing and had lost his eyesight.

Rabiyee blasted the US judiciary system for not allowing her husband to be freed on bail, describing it as an inhuman behavior.

Almost 50 Iranian nationals are currently imprisoned in the United States under various pretexts, mainly bypassing the US sanctions. Even American citizens working for Iranian entities are not immune from US government’s hostile policies.

Back in January, the FBI took Muslim journalist Marzieh Hashemi, who works for Iran’s English-language Press TV television, from St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a detention center in Washington DC without placing any charges against her, forcing her to eat pork and remove her Islamic hijab.

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