For a little over a year, Jamshid Sharmahd, a public speaker, broadcaster, and web designer, who supports Iranian dissidents, has been kidnapped and remains a captive of the Iranian regime. He was targeted because he created an internet platform for a group of Iranian Dissidents.
Sharmahd is known for engineering Tondar.org, the platform for a dissident group inside of Iran, called the Kingdom-Assembly of Iran (Anjoman-e Padeshahy-e Iran) also known as Tondar, which means “Thunder” in Persian. Since dissidents inside of Iran cannot freely declare their opposition against the regime, an outside portal serves as a safe platform to raise their voices as one against the regime’s corruption and violations.
Although Sharmahd created a web group for dissident expression and broadcasted their activities, he is not a political leader. The regime incriminates him by trying to pin the activities of the opposition movement inside Iran on him personally. Those who know him best state that he was an innocent citizen exercising his basic human rights of freedom of speech and freedom of press.
Sharmahd’s Family Discovered His Abduction From the internet
Sharmahd’s family learned of his abduction at the same time the rest of the world did, which was when the Iranian regime broadcasted it on state TV. Part of that broadcasting was later uploaded on YouTube, where the family saw the cruel fate of Sharmahd.
“We found out the same way everyone else did. Through the internet,” said Gazelle Sharmahd, Mr. Sharmahd’s daughter. She recalls disturbing, grainy, colorized footage began to circulate on Iranian regime broadcasting networks depicting her father, blindfolded, being taken from Dubai. The family anxiously looked on attempting to find out where he was being held and if he was even alive.
Sharmahd disappeared from Dubai, UAE sometime between the end of July and August 1st, 2020. For two months there was no sign of life from him, only the initial video that suggested he must have been taken to Iran. He was later confirmed alive and in regime hands by boastful state broadcasts that gave the appearance that a great intelligence sting operation had been successfully executed. His captors devised broadly contrasting narratives about how he was captured. They even stated that he was in Tajikistan. The Tajik Interior Ministry denies that Sharmahd was ever in their region.
To date, Sharmahd’s location is unknown, he is not allowed to disclose anything about his location in the sporadic phone calls he is allowed with his family.
Sharmahd Has Been a Voice to the Voiceless, Now He Needs Help
Sharmahd, who has always been the voice of others within Iran, has had his voice silenced by the human rights abuses of the Islamic regime.
Sharmahd has been active in Iranian politics even before the birth of the Islamic Regime following
Khomeini’s revolution in 1979. He believes strongly in the history of the Shah’s Guardians. This is why he is a media broadcaster and spokesperson for the underground group, the Kingdom Assembly of Iran.
The concepts of the group hail back to the time of the Shah’s Guardians and Iran’s traditional kingdom. Throughout the history of Iran, when the Shah was in danger by foreign or internal enemies, an assembly of virtuous citizens would form, rising to defend the kingdom in the absence of the Shah. Sharmahd believes in the return of Iran to its ancient culture, based on human rights and the new development of the Shah system to match the needs of the day.
Sharmahd’s family recalls how he gave a voice to the voiceless Iranians and now it is their turn to return the favor to him.
“I am my father’s voice,” said Gazelle Sharmahd, who noted in a recent meeting with the No2Islamic Republic Resonance channel that there was an important distinction between a dissident and those who support them. She called herself “the daughter of a dissident” but reserved the title “dissident” with reverence for her father and his sacrifice.
The IRIB’s state propaganda began to influence the foreign coverage of Sharmahd’s case, miscommunicating that he was a terrorist. Media reports echoed the statements by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence that Sharmahd was directly behind bombings. Iranian officials accused Sharmahd of having the support of the United States and Israeli intelligence, a common accusation made by regime officials against their political enemies.
Gazelle Sharmahd, and her family, stated that there was no leader of the movement and that it was decentralized. The movement’s founder, Fatollah Manuchehri, a.k.a Forud Fuladvand disappeared on a trip to Turkey, along with two aides, in 2007.
Sharmahd is a legal resident of the U.S. and a Citizen of Germany. The west stands by and does little to nothing while he languishes in prison.
Sharmahd is a software engineer by trade. He built his own software company in Germany and moved it to California in 2002. He continued contracts with companies overseas while living in the US. In 2008, after a failed assasination attack by the Islamic regime on U.S. soil to silence Sharmahd and hijack his website, the US officials advised him not to leave the country because his life remained at great risk. Unable to secure new contracts without traveling abroad he pursued employment in the US on a contractual basis, unfortunately without long term salary. With so much at stake financially, as he funded the Tondar website and radio satellite station from his finances, Sharmahd had to seek new contracts.
As an aging man in the California tech culture, work was getting difficult for him to find. Gazelle Sharmahd recalls that her father sought to build new contracts in Mumbai and Germany in March 2020 and went on what was supposed to be a three week business trip to India.
Sharmahd is a constituent of California District 27. The Congressional representative offices of CA27 did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
He embarked on his pursuit of better contracts as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and India closed its borders. Once in Mumbai, it became impossible for him to return. He was laid over in India for months at a time at an expensive AirBnB. Yet, he maintained contact with his family.
On his return journey to the United States, Sharmahd was denied a reentry flight to U.S. soil. This was because he was a US Visa holder and not a fully naturalized legal alien. Only fully naturalized aliens and U.S. nationals were allowed reentry during the pandemic restrictions. Sharmahd is a citizen of Germany and was advised to return to his country of citizenship and seek the help of the US embassy to reenter the US where he has lived for almost 2 decades.
Due to the pandemic, appointments at the embassy were given months into the future and Sharmahd decided to return to India to make use of the waiting time to at least follow up on his business.
The family stated that their last confirmed video contact with Sharmahd was on July 28, 2020, in his hotel room on a flight overlay in Dubai on his way back to india. To put his wife’s mind at ease, who was worried that he was traveling through the UAE, Sharmahd had put a Google Map tracking app on his phone so she could follow his movements. Just days before his disappearance, he was demonstrating how to use the tracking app for his wife, moving around his hotel on a video call. He seemed in good spirits and healthy upon the last communication before he was taken. After that communication broke off.
The family watched in alarmed confusion as Google Maps indicated Sharmahd’s journey was taking an opposite course than the one they had expected. The Google Map tracker’s trail went from Dubai to near the water on Oman’s soil. Then, it went cold. On July 31, they received a peculiar text message from him after countless unanswered calls and messages. It stated that he would “be alright” and that “he would be in contact soon.”
“My father was always communicating with us,” recalled Gazelle Sharmahd, noting how odd it was that he had not responded to them for two days.
From that point on, Sharmahd was at the mercy of the Iranian regime. His contact with his family was obscure. “He would call us at unscheduled times. I think he called about eight times,” his daughter recalled.
The family never had time to communicate with Sharmahd directly. He was never alone but was always in the company of 5-10 guards, who instructed him on what he could and could not say.
The family, despite their anguish, did not sit idle.
“Immediately, I went into fight mode,” said Gazelle Sharmahd, recalling how she had approached every NGO that would listen. Amnesty Iran and Amnesty UK were contacted early in the juncture. There was a six-month delay before they returned her messages.
Her family likewise approached human rights attorneys to help them file petitions on Sharmahd’s behalf. On March 3, 2021, the Global Liberty Alliance filed a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Sharmahd’s behalf.
Petitions were met with some success. In April, Amnesty International released a statement that detailed how Jamshid Sharmahd was arbitrarily detained in Iran. The statement acknowledged Sharmhad as a “political dissident” dispensing with media report language that had referred to him as a “terrorist” and a “ring leader.” A petition was attached, which called on respondents to write to Iran and demand Sharmahd’s release.
However, human rights attorney Jason Poblete notes that the United States and Germany, if they work together, have the power to end Sharmahd’s captivity.
Foreign intercession for Sharmahd has been limited. Germany’s government stated that it was limited in its capacity to help because of complex international laws.
Foreign authorities merely referred the family to legal representation. This, however, proved to be a non-starter in any attempt to save Sharmahd. The referral selected lawyer has disappeared since she was placed on the case. Sharmadh’s family does not know what happened to her.
Poblete notes the depth of the west’s failure in this regard. He stressed that the western world should intervene on a humanitarian basis. Sharmahd has no formal legal case against him and has not been presented the charges against him.
“It’s fiction that it (the Islamic Republic) has a bonafide legal system,” said Poblete. “Reciprocity should be earned, not freely given. Release Mr. Sharmahd and other hostages then, perhaps talk about the rest,” added Poblete.
Poblete said that he could not underscore enough the fact that Sharmahd was targeted illegally and kidnapped, to the place where the regime even celebrated his abduction by broadcasting on live television the circumstances of kidnapping Sharmahd. Any western argument on the due process of an international legal case would be inadequate because Iran has no legal grounds to detain Sharmahd.
Sharmahd, since his abduction, has been subjected to mock legal representation from regime-appointed lawyers. His family continues attempts to get him fair legal representation from elsewhere, or to at least take regime lawyers off his case.
His family intervened upon learning that the first of these appointees was instrumental in the execution of another regime rebel, the journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was executed in late December 2020. Sharmahd demanded this first appointee Dabir Daryabegi be taken off his case. However, in a phone call with Sharmahd, his family found out that a few weeks after Daryabegi’s dismissal from the case, Reza Dordizadeh, another “trusted” lawyer of the regime was introduced.
Sharmahd was not allowed to call his family for two months and his family was extremely worried about his health status. In that last phone call he was coughing heavily, complained about body aches because his Parkinson’s medication was frequently delayed and reported a weight loss of over 40lb. At that time Sharmahd had been held in solitary confinement for 10 months straight, which is extremely inhumane for anyone, especially a 66-year-old with diabetes, heart disease and advanced Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to his chronic conditions, sources familiar with his case believe Mr. Sharmahd has been tortured while in captivity.
Worried about her husband’s health and wondering if he was even still alive, Sharmahd’s wife corresponded with Reza Dordizadeh, and it was then they confirmed that he had been assigned the case. He argued that he would not have time to review the “10-files long” case made against Sharmahd by the regime without adequate monetary compensation. He then demanded a quarter-million dollars from Sharmahd’s family to continue his legal defense. He likewise asked for $170,000 after a “discount.” This “discount” is a customary demand in Iran.
Faced with Reza Dordizadeh’s demands and unwillingness to otherwise provide any meaningful legal defense, the family maintains that he must be taken off the case for Sharmahd to have the semblance of a fair trial. When his daughter published Dordizadeh’s demands on social media, Sharmahd was allowed a quick phone call.
“‘Dad, don’t go with these regime lawyers. They are not your friends. We have a lawyer for you,’ we told him,” Gazelle Sharmahd remembers now having to explain that they had a lawyer but she was not being allowed to meet with Sharmahd.
Sharmahd, under duress, has been made to express confidence in his regime-appointed lawyers. However, after Gazelle Sharmahd told him the demand of $250,000 that his new lawyer made, he pleaded to have him off the case.
“The devil himself could meet with my father now and he would talk to him. You have to have someone to talk to or you would go crazy,” said Gazelle Sharmahd, describing the intense living conditions within a regime prison.
“When we told my dad in our last phone call on June 25th about this, my dad said ‘we need to get him off the case, I rather have no lawyer than someone like this’,” said Gazelle Sharmahd.
Despite Sharmahd’s limited legal support, the family hopes to get him a trial soon, because they believe this is their best chance of saving him. This is the only part of the detainment that the family can influence. Under Iran’s law during the trial phase, a lawyer of their choice could get access to the client and see his casefiles. His daughter explained, “We don’t even want a lawyer on his case to build any kind of defense, my father is innocent. We only want a lawyer on the case to be able to go and physically see him. No one that we trust has seen him for a year. Not the German consulate, not our lawyer, no family members, no one has access to him”.
The stakes for any trial process are high. Once a trial begins within the Iranian regime, they typically go speedily. A man with Parkinson’s living within the harsh conditions of regime prison confinement, which includes solitary confinement and torture, will be in an altered mental state after so many months. Poblete likewise believes that Sharmahd has been tortured, a common abuse in Iranian prisons.
All of these things combine to increase the pressures on Sharmahd’s mind.
Supporters of the Iranian community have called for an increased awareness in the western world of the plight of loved ones who, like Sharmahd, are trapped by the Islamic Republic regime.