An American of Iranian descent arrested in Iran in July and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment on dubious charges has been released on bail after he went on a hunger strike, rights activists reported on Monday.
The American, Robin Shahini, who is 46 or 47, was released about two weeks ago, just before the start of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group that gets information from contacts inside the country.
Hadi Ghaemi, the group’s executive director, said it was unclear whether Mr. Shahini’s release was temporary or if he could leave the country. Mr. Ghaemi said that Mr. Shahini had been required to post bail of 2 billion rials — about $60,000 — and that he could be sent back to prison if his conviction were affirmed on appeal.
Mr. Shahini, a graduate student at San Diego State University, is one of at least four Americans of Iranian descent who have been imprisoned in Iran since the country negotiated a nuclear agreement with major powers including the United States in 2015. The agreement relaxed economic sanctions in exchange for verifiable promises of peaceful nuclear work.
Many rights activists regard the imprisonments as a warning to Americans of Iranian descent not to view the nuclear agreement as a sign of better relations between the United States and Iran.
Mr. Shahini was seized while visiting his mother in the northeast Iranian city of Gorgan. He was sentenced in October to 18 years’ imprisonment on charges that included aiding a hostile power and threatening national security, which rights activists have called specious. More recently, he went on a hunger strike that seriously weakened him.
Mr. Ghaemi speculated that the hunger strike had played an important role in the decision to release Mr. Shahini on bail. “Given the lack of evidence with regards to charges brought against him, it was a high risk for his captors to keep him in prison while his health deteriorated,” he wrote in an email.
Other Americans held in Iran include Siamak and Baquer Namazi, a prominent father and son who were sentenced in October to 10 years’ imprisonment, as well as Karan Vafadari, an art gallery owner, and his wife, Afarin Niasari, an Iranian with permanent United States residency status. The precise nature of the charges against them are unclear.
Iran considers imprisoned Iranian-Americans to be citizens of Iran and does not afford them consular privileges ordinarily granted to foreign citizens.
Another American, Robert A. Levinson, vanished in Iran more than 10 years ago. The Iranian authorities have said they know nothing of his whereabouts or his fate.