State Department spokesman John Kirby stated on Thursday that the U.S. State Department is “looking into” reports that a San Diego man has been detained in Iran. The Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force tasked with protecting the Islamic Republic, has been increasingly targeting Americans and non-Americans with Western ties since the country signed the Iran Nuclear Deal. Robin Shahini’s girlfriend informed American authorities that that Shahini was taken into custody on July 11, 2016. Shahini, an American citizen of Iranian descent, was visiting family in Iran when he suddenly went missing, according to his sister. Shahini’s sister informed his girlfriend that Shahini has not been heard from since his disappearance.
Shahini’s girlfriend has asked not to be identified. She also has family in Iran and fears for their safety. She told reporters that Shahini was abducted due to online comments he made criticizing Iran’s human rights record. Denera Ragoonanan, a friend of Shahini, also beleives that he went missing due to his online comments. She stated that he isn’t a “mainstream activist” but was very vocal of his criticisms of the Iranian government. She told reporters:
“Robin has been known for his advocacy of human rights on social media. This advocacy, unfortunately, has not sat well with the Iranian government,”
She went on to claim that she believes he was abducted because Iran does not “recognize Iranian-Americans” and believe they are subject to the full power of Iranian law.
At a new conference on Thursday both Secretary of State John Kerry and Ret. Admiral John Kirby stated they State Department will look into the reports but declined further comments.
Public records show that Shahini, 46, was a productive and intelligent member of his community. He owned several businesses in the San Diego area, he graduated form San Diego State University with a degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution, and was accepted into the school’s graduate program in Homeland Security but had not yet started attending classes.
Shahnini’s girlfriend stated that he was passionate about international relations and that his online criticisms were not limited to the Iranian governement. She told reporters:
“He’s majoring in international security, so his passion involves peace and justice, human rights. He’s open about being a human rights advocate. But it’s not only limited to Iran, he’s also posted about other countries too.”
On the same day that Shahnini was reportedly detained the Iranian government announced the indictments of a Lebanese man and three dual nationals. The also stated that the government announced the detainment of another seven people faced charges related to the unrest that surrounded the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.
Terrorism expert Robert Baer said he is not surprised by the detention. He confirmed Ragoonanan’s claims that the government doesn’t recognize Iranian-Americans and states that, if Shahnini was indeed detained, the government would require no actual evidence to arrest him. He doubts American officials will “have much luck” in negotiating for his release with Iranian officials.