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New York Times Writer Facing Iran-Agent Charges Will Serve as His Own Lawyer

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

A taxi passes by in front of The New York Times head office, Feb. 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri / File.

The frequent New York Times opinion contributor facing federal criminal charges of serving as an unregistered foreign agent of Iran says he will serve as his own lawyer in the case.

“I just informed the US government that I am going pro se as of today, let the chips fall where they may,” Kaveh Afrasiabi told the Algemeiner via email. “I intend to represent myself against these totally false allegations.”

The decision to forgo a defense lawyer with legal training may offer Afrasiabi a loophole in the conditions of his release. Under the terms of the release order by Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal, the US District Court ordered Afrasiabi to have “no contact with any known, current and/or former members of the Iranian government unless in the presence of counsel.” If Afrasiabi serves as his own counsel, that could render the release condition essentially meaningless.

“I expect them to accord me all the rights and privileges of an attorney under the law,” Afrasiabi told the Algemeiner.

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As for the Times, it has for now eliminated Afrasiabi as the middleman and published an opinion piece directly from Iran’s ambassador at the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, rather than from Afrasiabi.

Afrasiabi earlier this week acknowledged to the Algemeiner that he had “received checks from the Mission’s UN account.” During the same period, the New York Times repeatedly published Afrasiabi’s opinion articles about Iran without disclosing to readers that he was being paid by the Iranian government. In a criminal complaint unsealed earlier this month in the case, federal prosecutors said Afrasiabi had received about $265,000 from the Iranian U.N. mission since 2007, plus health insurance coverage.

The recent Times opinion piece from the Iranian U.N. mission urges the Biden administration to hurry back into the nuclear sanctions relief deal from which President Trump withdrew. It offers a tendentious account of recent events in the region, blaming Israel and President Trump for escalating tensions.

“Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders in the region renewed their hopes of harassing and marginalizing Iran,” Takht-Ravanchi writes. “The Trump administration repeatedly pushed the region to the brink of a catastrophic war. The assassination of Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian military commander, in January 2020 was the most important of these provocations, to which was added the brazen assassination of our eminent scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November.”

The “eminent” scientist was a kingpin of Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, according to Israeli and American officials. And Suleimani performed plenty of his own provocations.

The pro-Iran, anti-Netanyahu spin is visible in other sections of the Times as well. The Sunday New York Times Book Review carried a piece asserting, in part, “It is surely important to expose the errors of American policy and of self-serving American narratives, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu’s crying wolf about Iran’s imminent ability to make a nuclear bomb.”

The Times has for now at least suspended its $135,000 luxury “Times Journey” tours that included stops in Iran and Havana and an “exclusive brunch” with the paper’s then-publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. If the Biden administration and the Iranian government re-enter the nuclear deal, perhaps part of the negotiation will be a dropping of the charges against Afrasiabi. If the Times Journeys to Iran — one of the newspaper’s “52 Places To Love in 2021” for its “beauty” and “innocence” — ever resume, maybe Afrasiabi will find work as a lecturer or expert tour guide for Times readers who can afford the trip.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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