Iranian gallerist Afarin Neyssari and her Iranian-American husband Karan Vafadari have been released on bail from Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison after being held there for two years. The couple reportedly paid an astounding bail of 400 billion Iranian rial ($9.1 million) and were released on July 21; they are still in Tehran, pending a decision on their request for an appeal.
Their son, Cyrus Vafadari, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran: ”They were told that in two weeks they would be either recalled to give further explanations or issued a final verdict.”
The couple—who co-founded Tehran’s Aun Gallery in 2009—were arrested in July 2016, and in January 2018 were sentenced for a range of accusations that included “spreading corruption,” “dealing in indecent art,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “storing alcoholic drinks.” (Consumption of alcohol by Muslim citizens is officially prohibited in Iran, and non-Muslim citizens are granted limited permissions to produce and consume it.) Both were reportedly given extreme prison sentences: 16 years in prison for Neyssari; 27 years, 124 lashings, and a fine of 9 billion Iranian rial ($205,000) for Vafadari.
Observers have suggested that the couple’s detention was motivated by the fact that Vafadari is a member of Iran’s Zoroastrian community, a religious minority that is frequently persecuted. His family owns valuable real estate in Tehran and, at the time of his arrest, he was reportedly seeking to reclaim land that was taken from them during the 1979 revolution.
“Despite the chaos in the early days of the revolution, and even though my mother spent nine months in the same ward I am being kept in now, our family’s love for the land of our ancestors’ was so strong that they did not leave the country when more than half of our agricultural lands were confiscated in the name of [Islamic tax] and more assets were taken away from us for different reasons,” Vafadari wrote in a letter from prison earlier this year.
News of the couple’s release began to circulate on social media earlier this week. “Our colleagues Afarin Neyssari and Karen (sic) Vafadari [have] been released from Evin prison on bail,” a message posted on Instagram by Tehran-based Ab-Anbar Gallery reads. “We are looking forward to reopening of Aun gallery and their return to Tehran art scene.”