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Jews in Iran ‘shocked and angered’ about looming execution of young Jew

“Iranian authorities often subject Jewish citizens to different standards when it comes to determining judgments in cases of this nature,” wrote Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

A protest in 2023 against policies of the Iranian in Trafalgar Square, the United Kingdom. Credit: Koca Vehbi/Shutterstock.
A protest in 2023 against policies of the Iranian in Trafalgar Square, the United Kingdom. Credit: Koca Vehbi/Shutterstock.

The imminent execution of a young Jewish man the Iranian regime has sentenced to death has been postponed, Iranian Jewish activists in the United States told JNS.

Arvin Ghahramani, age 20, according to news reports, is being held in the city of Kermanshah—some 300 miles west of Tehran near the border with Iraq—on charges of committing manslaughter following a street altercation.

“We have received news from the Jewish community in Iran that this young Jewish man’s upcoming execution has been postponed for now, pending review by the Iranian Supreme Court,” George Haroonian, an Iranian Jewish activist and co-founder of the “No to Antisemitism” group in Los Angeles, told JNS.

Ghahramani is being held at the Dizelabad Prison in Kermanshah. He was arrested, quickly tried and sentenced to death for killing a Muslim man named Amir Shokri two years ago during a street brawl, according to a report from the Iran-based Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Rosa Parto, a freelance Iranian Jewish journalist based in Holland who was among the first Persian-language reporters to break Ghahramani’s story earlier last week, told JNS she spoke with members of the Jewish community in Iran. “They are both shocked and angered about the news of this impending execution for Arvin since they’ve been kept in the dark about it until now,” she said.

The Jews in Iran told Parto that Iranian Jewish leaders did not tell the Jewish community that they were working behind the scenes to try to secure Ghahramani’s release over the past two years. The leaders “failed to do anything to help him and are only now speaking out publicly as he’s facing imminent death,” Parto’s sources said.

‘Deeply concerned by reports’

Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, appears to be the only American official to comment on the pending execution; she did so shortly after confirmation of the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in a helicopter crash earlier this week.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that authorities in Iran plan to proceed with the execution of Arvin Ghahramani,” Lipstadt wrote. “We note with concern that Iranian authorities often subject Jewish citizens to different standards when it comes to determining judgments in cases of this nature.”

“We once again urge the Iranian authorities to respect all fair trial guarantees and ensure fair application of the law,” she added.

Washington and others drew criticism when their delegates to the United Nations stood for a moment of silence on Monday for Raisi and the other officials. The U.S. State Department also offered “official condolences” on the deaths, and John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser, told reporters on Monday that “offering condolences is a typical practice.”

“We are monitoring with deep concern reports that a young Jewish man is scheduled to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the coming days,” wrote the Anti-Defamation League.

“We call on the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy Service, the U.S. State Department and António Guterres,” the secretary-general of the United Nations, “to intervene with the Islamic Republic of Iran to stop what is reported to be their scheduled execution tomorrow of a 20-year old Iranian Jewish man,” wrote Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch on May 17.

‘Return her son back to her’

Homayoun Sameyah Najaf-Abadi, head of the Tehran Jewish Committee—an umbrella group of Jewish organizations that work on behalf of Iranian Jews—posted in Persian on Telegram on May 16 that he was trying to help Ghahramani.

He wrote that he had tried in vain several times to talk to or meet with members of Shokri’s family to try and convince them to ask that the court not enforce the death penalty against Ghahramani. He said he sought to make contact through intermediaries, including Muslim leaders in Kermanshah; a Muslim Parliament member who represents the city; and the city’s Jewish communal leader.

Haroonian, the Los Angeles activist, explained to JNS that under the Iranian regime’s Sharia law, the family of a victim can ask state-run courts not to put the accused to death in certain circumstances.

“In some cases, if the family of the victim agrees to receive the diyah, or ‘blood money,’ which is normally cash or other forms of restitution, then the victim’s family can ask the court not to enforce the verdict of an execution or prison time,” Haroonian said.

Sameyah Najaf-Abadi, the Jewish leader in Iran, wrote in his Telegram post that he offered to pay the diyah to the Shokri family and to have a mosque or school built in the city in the name of the family’s dead son, but it refused all of his offers.

A handwritten note in Persian believed to have been penned by Ghahramani’s mother, Sonia Ghahramani, has circulated on social media. The letter purports to ask the Jewish community to help “return her son back to her” and for prayers for his safe return home.

A Persian-language voice recording that has circulated online, which also purports to be from Sonia Ghahramani, asks that people “pray for Arvin so that my son can return home once again.”

Parto, the journalist in Holland, told JNS that the details of Ghahramani’s street brawl remain unknown because the Iranian court hasn’t released case records.

“Every Jewish person inside Iran I’ve spoken to in recent days says they are very worried and fearful for Arvin’s life,” and have been praying daily for him, Parto told JNS. “They say he’s in a very dangerous situation because he’s a Jew, where he already has inferior status in the eyes of the regime’s radical Islamic rule, but now he is also involved in the supposed killing of a Muslim, which makes his situation even worse.”

Jews in Iran have also told Parto that they are angry at their leaders.

“Many of the Jews I spoke to in Iran are saying, ‘We could have been Arvin’s voice or helped get him a better lawyer or helped raise the money to avoid execution,’ if only our leaders had told us sooner about this situation instead of waiting until the last minute when he was facing the hangman’s noose,” Parto told JNS.

JNS was not able to reach Jewish leaders in Iran directly. Leaders of the Iranian American Jewish Federations in Los Angeles and New York declined to comment.

Iranian Jewish leaders outside of Iran have, for more than four decades, typically refrained from criticizing the Islamic regime publicly out of fear that their comments could lead the regime to retaliate against their Jewish friends and relatives in the country.

Some Iranian Jewish activists in Los Angeles told JNS that their community is very concerned about Ghahramani’s fate.

“The Iranian-American Jewish community is outraged and saddened to hear about the horrific circumstances facing this young Jewish man in Iran,” said Sam Yebri, past president of 30 Years After, an Iranian Jewish nonprofit in the city.

“It reinforces the perilous situation of the remaining Jews living under the Islamic Republic and should redouble the efforts of the broader Jewish community to fight to protect the human rights of this young man and of all Iranians suffering under this brutal illegitimate regime,” he told JNS.

Non-Jewish Iranian American groups have also voiced support for Ghahramani. “Iranian-Americans, irrespective of their faith background, are angered that another of their compatriots is facing death at the hands of the Islamic Republic,” Cameron Khansarinia, vice president of the Washington-based National Union for Democracy in Iran, told JNS.

“We recognize our Jewish and Baha’i Iranians have often faced particular persecution for their faith,” he added.

‘Questionable circumstances’

Although 80,000 Jews lived in Iran on the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, as of 2012, an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 Jews are still in the country, according to the World Jewish Congress.

Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus and other faith groups collectively made up about 0.2% of the Iranian population as of 2020, according to the CIA.

The U.S. State Department’s Iran report, which is part of its 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, cites the Tehran Jewish Committee as saying an estimated 9,000 Jews live in Iran.

“Members of the Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, president and other top officials, routinely engaged in egregious antisemitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion,” per the report.

“Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei’s social-media accounts repeatedly contained antisemitic attacks and tropes,” it added. “State-run media routinely claimed ‘Zionists’ influenced Western nations on topics affecting Iran and blamed ‘Zionists,’ among others, for fomenting unrest in the country.”

Habib Elghanian, Iran
Habib Elghanian, a leader of the Iranian Jewish community, was executed by a firing squad in Tehran on May 9, 1979, during the Islamic Revolution. Credit: Wikipedia.

In 2000, 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and faced execution. As a result of a vocal campaign launched by Iranian-Jewish activists in Los Angeles and the larger Jewish community, the Shiraz Jews were later released.

Ghahramani’s pending execution comes at a painfully historic time for many Iranian Jews, who commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Islamic regime’s execution of the Jewish communal leader Habib Elghanian on May 9, on sham charges in a 1979 trial in Tehran that reportedly lasted less than 20 minutes.

Haroonian told JNS that he will continue to publicize Ghahramani’s case and ask American Jews to help put international pressure on Iran’s regime to spare him.

“We need the regime authorities to know that the eyes of the world are on them, and American Jewish leaders can do that,” he told JNS. “The regime needs to know that they cannot execute a young man under questionable circumstances.”

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