Accused Iranian-Agent New York Times Writer Claims ‘Memory Loss,’ Asks for Court Delay
The frequent New York Times contributor facing criminal charges for allegedly serving as an unregistered, paid agent of the government of Iran is asking for a three-month delay in his case, citing health problems including “memory loss.”
Kaveh Afrasiabi, an Iranian national who is a US permanent resident, or green card holder, pleaded not guilty in February. Prosecutors say he was paid approximately $265,000 by the Iranian UN mission since 2007 and also received health insurance benefits. Afrasiabi has acknowledged to The Algemeiner that he received the money.
A status conference in the case had been set for April 21. In a recent filing, Afrasiabi, who is representing himself, asked Judge Edward Korman of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, “to postpone the hearing to sometime in late June or early July, by which time a clearer picture of his medical condition will emerge.”
“As grounds for this Motion, Defendant states that he is still suffering from the head injuries inflicted upon him by police brutality as well as a highly suspicious car accident in February 2020 when his car was totaled by a tow truck backing into him on a broad day light when the Defendant was on his routine library visit in Watertown. Defendant has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to investigate that matter, that caused his hospitalization, and has been ignored, just as his pleas regarding police brutality against him have been ignored,” the motion says. “Presently, the Defendant is under treatment at the Neurology Department at a local hospital, and is scheduled to undergo an MRI and other tests, e.g., concerning his memory loss … the MRI department is backed up and have informed Afrasiabi that it may take up to a month or more before they can do the test. Depending on the outcome of these tests and the effectiveness of the medication he is taking to deal with perpetual migraine headache, Defendant Afrasiabi may be physically and medically unable to represent himself in this instant action.”
On March 9, Judge Korman denied Afrasiabi’s motion requesting to continue the paid consulting work for Iran. “Defendant is free to pursue any form of employment that does not cause him to violate the terms of his release, which include the condition that he will not violate the law,” Korman ordered. Afrasiabi replied in an email: “I am 64 years old, publicly smeared, under house arrest … what kind of employment can I possibly got? It is not realistic.”
Prosecutors had opposed allowing Afrasiabi to continue the paid work for Iran’s UN mission. “The defendant in essence asks the Court to permit him to resume committing the crimes with which he is currently charged. The Court lacks the authority to permit the defendant to commit further crimes, and the motion should be denied,” the federal prosecutor handling the case, Ian Richardson, wrote to Judge Korman. Richardson wrote that unrestricted contact with the Iranian officials would “create an unacceptable risk that the defendant could arrange with them to flee.”
Afrasiabi also asked Korman to delay the hearing on the grounds that the US government had failed to provide him with material related to the case. “As a result, I will be unable to properly prepare myself for the April 21st status hearing,” Afrasiabi wrote April 14. He followed up on the afternoon of April 15: “With the status hearing only a few days away, I still have not received the discovery as promised by US attorney Richardson over three weeks ago. This is abusive of my rights as a pro se and puts me at a marked disadvantage for the upcoming hearing.”
The record of pre-trial motions is lively, with Afrasiabi, even while injured and representing himself, keeping up a steady flow of correspondence. He filed a copy of a 1998 letter supporting him from Howard Zinn, the prominent left-leaning Boston University professor. On February 19, Afrasiabi told Judge Korman, “I intend to commence an indefinite hunger strike as of next week to protest the racist, thinly veiled abuse of my human rights.”
In the hunger-strike letter, Afrasiabi wrote, “Whereas I worked legally and transparently as an Iran international affairs consultant for over 13 years with the full knowledge of US government from day one, I am today treated like a criminal and ‘national security threat’ subjected to dehumanizing and harsh treatment, contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights and UN Charter.” Said Afrasiabi, “The US attorney in New York and his henchmen have made outrageous extrajudicial statements defaming me publicly and seriously harming my hard-earned academic credential over 35 years, completely disregarding my serious contributions to the cause of peace and dialogue between the US and Iran, invading my privacy and having zero respect for my private life and personal property, and treating me like an animal by attaching a device to me that has caused recurrent physical pain.”
In arguing to be allowed to continue working for the Iranian UN Mission, Afrasiabi says he “was under the impression that his work was legal.” He says he was unfamiliar with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and therefore couldn’t have been conspiring to break it. “Defendant never once discussed FARA with any Iranian official and, in fact, was only vaguely aware of it and had never read it until after his arrest. The US government’s claim that he engaged in a conspiracy to violate FARA is completely baseless,” Afrasiabi told the court. “It is in US’s national interest to allow the Defendant to continue his consulting role, in light of the continuing hostilities between US and Iran and the need for voices like the Defendant seeking de-escalation of tensions.”
Afrasiabi wrote that if the court allowed him to continue the work, “I am prepared to register under the FARA Act…I am and have been an agent of peace committed to US-Iran reconciliation and peace and dialogue.”
In an email to The Algemeiner, Afrasiabi said that for family reasons he decided not to go through with the hunger strike. He said he did not know whether his case had come up in the talks at Vienna over the US re-entering the Iran nuclear deal it left during the Trump administration, but said he was hoping that the Biden administration “does not continue this crusade against me,” launched in the closing hours of the previous administration. Afrasiabi recently published a book, Agent of Peace, which he also submitted as a court filing.
The New York Times has yet to mention the case in its news columns, according to a search on its archives. The Times also has not appended any note to Afrasiabi’s op-ed pieces, still available on the Times’ website, that would disclose to Times readers that he was being paid by the Iranian government while writing for the paper about Iran. In a court affidavit, Afrasiabi writes, “I never wrote any book or article at the instruction of Iran Mission, nor did I ever waiver from my own independent standards in my publications. At times, my writings were at variance with Iran’s positions.”
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.