Letter from Roberto Toscano, Former Italian Ambassador

Ambassadors, including retired ambassadors, are supposed to be reserved, prudent, and to avoid going public, especially on themes that could be considered politically delicate. This time, however, it is impossible for me to keep my mouth shut according to the best traditions of my former profession.

I just read the news of the detention, three months ago, of Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Niasari. Apparently they are accused of corruption and in particular of organizing in their home parties with foreign diplomats at which alcohol was served.

Having been a witness and a participant of this “corruption” I believe I have the duty to speak up. Karan Vafadari and Afarin Niasari are among the most refined, the most exquisite, the most dignified people I have met during the five years I spent as Italy’s ambassador to Tehran. And the home that I visited more than once was certainly not a den of vice and debauchery.

It is thanks to people like them that foreign diplomats posted in Iran have had the opportunity of gaining an appreciation of Iran’s culture, both traditional and contemporary, and of Iranian society. A society that – in all social classes and from cities to villages – is extraordinarily educated, open to the world, friendly to foreigners.

One has to be truly gullible and the easy victim of propaganda in order to believe that they were detained because they were offering alcoholic drinks to their guests – especially in a capital where most of allegedly pious officials are notoriously not averse to drink. The reason must be a different one, much darker and totally deprived even of the pseudo justification of religious orthodoxy: political blackmail toward the US (of which they are also citizens), envy for their success, intimidation toward the Zoroastrian community, desire to grab their properties, repression of contemporary art (the reported destruction of works of art at their home would point in this direction).

Their detention is not only despicable because of its blatant injustice, but also because it will work as a further obstacle to the task of integrating Iran in the international community through a policy of dignity and proud independence, and at the same time dialogue and mutual respect.

Politically, one can only interpret it as a provocation, not different from the detention and trial of Siamak and Baquer Namazi and of other dual nationals. A provocation that is particularly dangerous and unpatriotic at a moment when the election of Donald Trump justifies the worst fears of a renewal of the tensions that had seemed to abate with the conclusion of the nuclear deal – a major diplomatic feat for which those who dread further conflict in the Middle East should be grateful both to President Obama and to President Rouhani.

Much more is at stake than the personal freedom of two outstanding, patriotic Iranian citizens.

Roberto Toscano, Italian Ambassador to Iran (2003-2008)