Gholamrez (Reza) “Robin” Shahini

Gholamrez (Reza) “Robin” Shahini

Iranian-American human rights activist and student
Robin Shahini


Iranian-American Gholamrez (Reza) Shahini, who goes by “Robin,” was detained by Iranian authorities on July 11, 2016 and released from prison on bail in 2017. Shortly after graduating from San Diego State University, the 46-year-old returned to Iran to see his sick mother on May 25, 2016. On July 11, 2016, security forces arrested Shahini in the northern city of Gorgan. According to Shahini, “it was a terrifying moment, and they blindfolded me and they took me to the custody and I did not know where I was.” Shahini left Iran as a refugee in 1988 and lived in Germany before moving to the United States in the early 2000s. Speculating on why he was arrested, Denera Ragoonanan, a friend of Robin’s, said, “Robin has been known for his advocacy of human rights on social media. This advocacy, unfortunately, did not sit well with the Iranian government.” In addition, according to family members, Shahini converted to Christianity, which could add to his troubles with the Islamic Republic. Shahini also had planned to continue his studies following acceptance into a graduate program in homeland security. This fact may have contributed to the Iranian judiciary’s decision to prosecute him.

Treatment in Prison

Reza has asthma and before he was detained one of his teeth was operated on and needed further treatment. There has been no response to the family’s requests to send him to a dentist outside the prison to prevent an infection. Shahini was held for six days in solitary confinement at the Neynava Detention Center in Gorgan and then transferred to the city’s main prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for four days. Shahini’s family also alleged that authorities withheld his asthma medicine and placed him in smoking areas of Gorgan prison to aggravate his condition. In addition, Shahini said, speaking to VICE News via phone from prison, “they were interrogating me every morning, every afternoon, and I was always by myself in my cell.” When his sentence was announced on October 24, 2016, Shahini said that he was planning to go on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

Charges & Conviction

On August 16, 2016, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported that Shahini was formally charged with “acting against national security,” participating in protest gatherings in 2009,” “collaborating with Voice of America (VOA) television,” and “insulting the sacred on Facebook,” but that his lawyer had not been granted access to the evidence being used against Shahini.  

ICHRI viewed the arrest of Shahini as a sign of Iran’s “lasting paranoia” over the Green Revolution of 2009, which authorities accused Shahini of actively supporting. Shahini told Vice News, “Whatever information they had is all in the pictures I posted in Facebook, in my web blog, and they use all those evidence to accuse me.” He acknowledged that he voiced support for the Green Movement in its protests against the disputed 2009 election results, but had since been a supporter of current President Hassan Rouhani.

On October 24, 2016, it was reported that Robin Shahini was sentenced to 18 years in prison for “collaboration with a hostile government.” Shahini said he “just laughed” after hearing his sentence. Shahini was also convicted of “insulting sanctities.” That charge can include a number of offenses, such as criticizing Islam or principles of the Islamic Republic. The sentence was issued after only one session before the Revolutionary Court in Gorgan on October 15, 2016. Shahini’s trial lasted only three hours, and his lawyer had less than 30 minutes to defend him. Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of ICHRI, said Shahini received “an unprecedented sentence” for his charges.” Shahini was released on bail in 2017 after a hunger strike.