An Iranian and a US-Iranian dual national were sentenced to death in Iran on Sunday on charges of founding a “cult” and promoting moral corruption, Financial Times reported on Monday.
The defendants, who have not been named, are believed to be a couple involved in the art industry who were arrested in July last year. They ran a leading art gallery in Tehran, the Iranian capital, and were known to associate with foreign diplomats.
Iran has arrested several Iranians holding dual nationality in recent months in a move analysts suggest is intended to intimidate those associated with foreign businesses or who have social connections with foreigners.
Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran prosecutor-general, said on Sunday that the man and woman had been sentenced because they established “a new cult” and made “alcoholic beverages, encouraged vice . . . through throwing mixed parties [and] . . . exhibiting and selling obscene images at gallery”.
He said the man was a US-Iranian dual national who owned a large home in an affluent neighbourhood in Tehran where he kept 4,000 litres of alcohol, which is illegal in Iran.
Two reformist Iranian journalists have also been arrested in recent days. Hengameh Shahidi, who is also a human-rights activist, was arrested on Thursday.
Shahidi had previously spent two years in prison for protesting against alleged fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. Ehsan Mazandarani was arrested on Sunday. He had been released from prison earlier this year after being in jailed in November 2015 on charges of acting against national security.
Pro-reform politicians have speculated that the latest crackdown is linked to May’s presidential election, when Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s centrist leader, will seek re-election. Hardliners in Iran commonly resort to politically motivated arrests to discourage reformists before the polls, they say.
A handwritten letter by Shahidi was released on social media on Sunday in which she claimed she had received warning of her imminent arrest. “I see no reason for my arrest . . . unless it is a pre-election plan for broad arrests of political activists and journalists,” she wrote.