Washington Examiner | by Zachary Halaschak | May 11, 2020
The United States is calling for the release of two award-winning Iranian college students arrested by Iran’s security forces after the regime accused them of stirring up unrest during the coronavirus pandemic.
The students, Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, were arrested in early April. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told the Washington Examiner that the two were detained on trumped-up charges.
“The Iranian regime is focused on harassing rather than empowering the most talented Iranians,” Ortagus said in a statement on Sunday. “A month ago, the regime arrested two talented students, Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi on bogus charges. We join the countless Iranians and others around the world in calling for their release.”
Younesi is a second-year computer student at Tehran’s Sharif Industrial University. He won the gold medal at the International Astronomy Olympiad hosted in Beijing in 2018. He had previously won gold and silver medals at Iran’s National Astronomy Olympiad. Moradi is also a top student who studies physics and has won awards, Radio Farda reported last month.
Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, said the students were arrested because they were affiliated with a leading anti-regime dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
He said the students had been trained to “carry out terrorist operations” in Iran. He also claimed that explosive devices were found at Younesi’s and Moradi’s residences. The group said in a press release that an additional 18 people have been arrested recently.
“This was a conspiracy by the enemy that wanted to instigate a riot amid the coronavirus situation, but the conspiracy was neutralized as a result of the diligence of security forces,” Esmaili said.
Younesi’s sister, Aida Younesi, said that her brother was physically assaulted by the dozen security agents who raided their home and arrested Younesi. She said he was hit in the head and was bleeding.
“Based on what laws you can arrest a 20-year-old young man using physical assault and show his bloody face to the parent?” Aida Younesi said in a video posted to Twitter.
The dissident group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, or MEK, said student protests broke out at Sharif University following the arrests.
Iran is known to arrest people who speak out against leader Ali Khamenei or the Islamic Republic. The country has been facing a major health crisis since the coronavirus pandemic began. It was one of the first “hot spots” after the initial wave of infections swept mainland China before spreading to the rest of the world. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has told citizens not to be afraid of the illness as the country begins to reopen.
Official counts from the Iranian government claim that about 100,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 and that more than 6,600 have died. Experts and dissident groups believe the real number is far higher. NCRI claimed it has tallied more than 40,000 deaths as of Sunday.
Iran has aggressively pushed back on those who question the country’s handling of the pandemic, with a top Iranian official claiming that thousands of citizens were arrested late last month for “spreading rumors about the coronavirus.”