Iranian-American Graduate Student Held in Iran Given 18-Year Prison Sentence

AP

An Iranian-American graduate student detained in Tehran since July was sentenced Monday to 18 years in prison, the latest dual national to be imprisoned by the Islamic Republic since the Iran nuclear deal was signed and implemented.

Robin Shahini, 46, was convicted in a secret trail of "collaboration with a hostile government," the Associated Press reported, noting that his sentence is the most severe of those who have been detained in recent months.

Shahini, a graduate student in San Diego State University's Homeland Security program, had traveled to Iran earlier this year to visit his mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, when he was detained on July 11. He spoke with Vice News via telephone, reportedly from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, in an interview that aired Monday evening, saying he "just laughed" after hearing his sentence.

Acknowledging that he supported the widespread protests after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, Shahini denied he ever did spying for any country.

"Whatever information they had is all the pictures I posted in Facebook, in my web blog, and they use all those evidence to accuse me," Shahini reportedly said.

Shahini left Iran in 1998 and has primarily resided in San Diego since then.

Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, has imprisoned several dual nationals in recent months, including Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 80-year old father, Baquer Namazi, last week.

Some analysts believe the sentences of several dual nationals could be a bargaining chip used by hardliners in Iran's government to get ransom payments.

Iran released four American prisoners in January when the nuclear deal was implemented on the same day that the United States sent Iranian officials $400 million in cash, which was part of a larger $1.7 billion sum to settle a decades-old failed arms deal.