On Wednesday, Iran accused Washington of “hostage-taking” after the US arrested an Iranian academic, alleging that he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi was arrested by the FBI in his home near Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday. Afrasiabi is a citizen of Iran but has been a lawful permanent citizen of the US for over 35 years.
The US Justice Department charged Afrasiabi with “acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and violating FARA.
FARA is a law that requires lobbyists and people representing foreign governments to register as an agent of that foreign government. The DOJ accused Afrasiabi of presenting himself to the media and Congress as an expert on Iran while secretly working for the Iranian government and its UN mission in the US.
FARA violations usually result in fines and are rarely punished with prison time. The DOJ’s website says the maximum sentence for “a willful violation of FARA” is no more than five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. Some FARA violations are considered misdemeanors that are punished with no more than six months in prison or up to a $5,000 fine.
When it comes to the US enforcing FARA, it usually depends on which government the alleged violator represents.
“America’s action is a clear hostage-taking of Iranian nationals,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said of Afrasiabi’s arrest. “Americans have sadly become addicted to such actions and take hostages for any excuse.”
Khatibzadeh described Afrasiabi as a “well-known university lecturer” and dismissed the charges against him as “baseless.”