Note to readers: This piece was updated on Monday, March 7 with a statement from Kaveh Afrasiabi.
An accused Iranian spy who is on trial in the United States is asking the court to delay his case for three months so that he can travel to Ukraine to fight against Russian forces, a request that experts tracking the case call a ‘laughable' attempt to escape the justice system.
Kaveh Afrasiabi, an Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident, was charged last year with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Iranian regime. The trial, which was scheduled to move ahead in January, was postponed twice last year at Afrasiabi's request, sparking Republican concerns that the Biden administration is allowing delays to appease Iran while it negotiates a new nuclear deal.
Now, Afrasiabi wants another delay so that he can travel to Ukraine and "support its war of independence against Russian aggression," according to an email sent Monday afternoon to the judge handling the case that was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
"I write this letter to request to be granted a temporary leave to join the international legion formed by Ukraine to support its war of independence against Russian aggression. As a political scientist and life-long peace activist who is aghast by the appalling condition of an entire nation, I find it my moral duty to heed Ukraine's call for help and thus implore the Court to grant a three months leave of absence whereby I can fulfill my own humanitarian calling by going to Ukraine and helping their cause," Afrasiabi wrote.
He also promises the court that if he is allowed to travel outside of the United States he will not flee to Iran and effectively prevent the United States from continuing the case against him.
"I assure your Honor that I have no other intention and I have absolutely no interest in returning to Iran, which has dreadfully failed to condemn Russia's invasion, or moving away from my family here in the United States," he wrote.
Afrasiabi says that his participation in the conflict would "set a good example for other Muslims in the international Muslim community," particularly in light of Russian president Vladimir Putin's mobilization of Chechen Muslims against Ukraine.
The defendant says he is not afraid to die for the cause, writing: "Should there be any physical harm to me in the course of my moral duty as a pro-Ukraine volunteer, from my vantage point that is an acceptable price."
"While I understand the probable hesitations of the Court and the U.S. Government with respect to my unusual request, I implore the Court to take into consideration my long record of peace and anti-war activism that includes placing full page announcements against the invasion of Iraq," the letter states.
Afrasiabi's case has become a flashpoint in Washington, D.C., because of the delays. Republican lawmakers and Iranian-American advocacy groups see the trial as a test for the Biden administration as it works toward inking a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Republican lawmakers who have spoken to the Free Beacon about the case said they suspect the administration is slow playing the case to avoid irritating Iran as talks inch closer to a deal.
Bryan Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, an advocacy group that has been closely tracking the case, described Afrasiabi's letter as "laughable."
"The request from Afrasiabi for a ‘temporary leave' to fight in Ukraine is just about as laughable as his actual defense of the crimes he's been charged with," Leib told the Free Beacon. "For years, Afrasiabi acted as an unregistered agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He's admitted to this in court documents, but yet the DOJ has granted three of his requests for trial postponements in 2021."
"As the only Iranian American group that has been tracking this case from day one," Leib added, "we again call on the DOJ to revoke the most recent postponement request and for the judge to order an immediate trial to start in the next two weeks. Afrasiabi has made a mockery of the American justice system. The time is now for the DOJ to end the charade and proceed full steam ahead in convicting Afrasiabi of the charges that he's openly admitted to carrying out."
UPDATE March 7, 9:00 a.m.: After publication of this article, Afraisibi contacted the Free Beacon to demand a retraction and allege that our description of him as an "accused spy" is defamatory. In a lengthy statement Afairisibi said, "I am simply accused by the U.S. government of failing to register as a foreign agent for my part-time consulting role with Iran’s mission to the United Nations." The Free Beacon stands by its reporting.