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October 27, 2022 1:54 pm
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Trial Date Set for New York Times Writer Accused of Being Paid Agent of Iran

avatar by Ira Stoll

Kaveh Afrasiabi. Photo: Screenshot.

The New York Times opinion writer facing federal criminal charges of being a paid foreign agent of Iran has been assigned to a new judge and to a new “standby” lawyer that he says he doesn’t want.

The Times writer, Kaveh Afrasiabi, pleaded not guilty in February 2021, insisting that his “part time consulting work” for the Iranian government had “no bearing” on the articles he wrote. Prosecutors say he was paid approximately $265,000 by the Iranian UN mission since 2007 and also received health insurance benefits. Jury selection in the case is to begin May 23, 2023, with a trial to follow immediately thereafter.

Afrasiabi has acknowledged to the Algemeiner that he received the money. Federal prosecutor Ian Richardson has said Afrasiabi had “deceived the public” and “deceived various editors and publishers” by failing to disclose that he was a paid agent of Iran. Richardson said Afrasiabi’s work was “part of an Iranian government operation to influence the American public.” The Times has not covered the case or appended any notes to Afrasiabi’s opinion articles, still available in the paper’s online archives.

So far, the newly assigned judge in the case, Judge Brian M. Cogan of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, isn’t showing much favor toward Afrasiabi’s stated desire to represent himself in the case, or toward other dimensions of Afrasiabi’s unconventional approach to his legal defense.

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On October 18, 2022, Cogan rejected Afrasiabi’s request to remove a standby attorney, Sabina Shroff. Shroff was named after Afrasiabi’s previous standby counsel, Deirdre Von Dornum, wrote the court on October 7, 2022, asking to be removed. “Unfortunately, my communication with Dr. Afrasiabi has broken down to such a point that I am no longer able to offer him effective assistance,” Von Dornum wrote.

In an October 9 order, Cogan denied 18 motions or requests from Afrasiabi, rejecting them as “frivolous,” “improper,” “without merit,” “irrelevant,” or “not within the power of the court.” Among the motions Judge Cogan denied as “frivolous” was a February 28, 2022, request from Afrasiabi asking for “temporary leave to join the international legion formed by Ukraine to support its war of independence against Russian aggression.”

In an email response to a question from the Algemeiner, Afrasiabi said his situation reminds him “of the long injustice to the Jews.” He said he was being persecuted in the US, as Jews have been around the world for centuries.

Afrasiabi had written, “I find it my moral duty to heed Ukraine’s call for help and thus implore the court to grant a three months leave of absence whereby I can fulfill my own humanitarian calling by going to Ukraine and helping their cause.”

Afrasiabi wrote that volunteering would “set a good example for other Muslims in the international Muslim community,” noting that “the signals sent from the Muslim world are quite atrocious and dreadfully short of principled support for Ukraine, with rare exceptions, and I am confident my initiative will have salutary effects in Iran and beyond.”

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.

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