Undated photograph of Iranian-American art gallery owners Karan Vafadari (left) and his wife Afarin Neyssar. Photograph: Center for Human Rights in Iran via AP

The owners of a prominent contemporary art gallery in Tehran, AUN, have been given long jail sentences by the Revolutionary Court judge Abolghasem Salavati.

AUN Gallery, Tehran. Photographs: Syma Sayyah

Afarin Neysari and her husband Karan Vafadari, both Iranian-Americans of Zoroastrian faith, have been sentenced to 16 and 27 years in prison, respectively. The verdict also calls for the seizure of the couple’s properties and assets, including their gallery.

Neysari was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Nasrollah Brigade on July 20, 2016 at Imam Khomeini Airport, as she was boarding a flight to Italy. Vafadari was arrested when he tried to visit his wife at Tehran’s Evin Prison. Both were charged with “espionage” and “acting against national security.” They have also been accused of promoting artworks that are a violation of Islamic values.

Prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dowlaabadi
Judge Abolghasem Salavati

In the indictment, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dowlatabadi claimed that the couple hosted mixed-sex parties for foreign diplomats and their Iranian associates. According to Jafari-Dowlatabadi, police also seized a large quantity of alcohol from the couple’s home.

Five months after Neysari and Vafadari were arrested, more than 200 artists and gallery owners wrote a letter to the Judiciary demanding a resolution to the couple’s case.

In a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Karan Vafadari’s sister, Kateh, denied all charges against her brother and sister-in-law, saying that the couple had been the victims of physical threat and extortion.

Vafadari and Neysari were denied legal representation. The couple has maintained their innocence all through their ordeal. They argue that their arrest had been politically and economically motivated and that the prosecutor had failed to prove any of the charges listed in the indictment.