Hosseini came to the U.S. on a student visa in 1995 after having been arrested three times for violating strict Islamist social mores -- being caught with a Benny Hill videotape, riding a motorcycle with an engine that was too big, and walking with an unmarried young woman.
In the U.S. the Department of Homeland Security has accused him of involvement in the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the leading Iranian opposition group, which the State Department classified as a terrorist organization in 1997.
Despite little evidence to support them, the allegations have left Hosseini trapped in a scary legal no-man's land -- unwilling to return to Iran, where the regime regularly executes suspected MEK supporters, and denied bail as he fights for legal status in the US.
The only substantiated evidence linking Hosseini to the MEK -- presented during immigration proceedings, never in a criminal court -- was his attendance at three legal political rallies in 1997 and 1998 (in Los Angeles, Denver, and New York) protesting the lack of democracy and human rights in Iran, and briefly helping sell a Mujahedin newspaper at one of them.
Ironically, the protests were sponsored by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR), an umbrella group with strong ties to the MEK that has also enjoyed the support of more than 200 members of Congress -- including then-Senator John Aschcroft.
Hosseini admits he has some black marks on his immigration record. He never registered at the university he was supposed to attend in San Diego -- due to money problems in the family, he says. He was also one of 29 people targeted as the result of a 1999 sting operation against Bahram Tabatabai, a legal consultant in Los Angeles who'd been submitting false visa applications -- including, allegedly, for members of the MEK.
But it was post-9/11 hysteria that landed Hosseini in detention and put his life at risk. The immigration judge who presided over Hosseini's case in 2000 and 2001 didn't issue his decision until more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"Sept. 11 set the paradigm for how we approach persons who are accused of terrorist activity," says Matt Adams, an attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle who agreed to represent Hosseini for free. "Before, we pretty much stuck to presuming someone was innocent until he was proven guilty. Now, judges don't want to be labeled as being soft on terrorism."
Relying on allegations that Hosseini "engaged or will engage in terrorist activity," the judge denied him all legal options for remaining in the US.
In October, 2002, a Joint Terrorism Task Force picked up Hosseini at the small corner store he'd opened in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he'd moved with his new bride.
Hosseini has been behind bars ever since, where, he says, he's lost 35 pounds and four of his teeth have rotted.
Ironically, legal consultant Bahram Tabatabai, the only person to be convicted of any crime as a result of the sting operation, spent less than two years in prison.
The government's sole source in its case against Hosseini was Hojatt Azimi, an informant with a criminal history who had worked for Tabatabai. Court records show the government paid Azimi thousands of dollars and granted him immunity for his role in the visa fraud scheme in exchange for his identifying alleged terror suspects.
Under cross-examination, the special agent in charge of the government's investigation acknowledged there was no proof of Hosseini's alleged membership in the MEK. "I can't honestly hazard a guess as to what his level of involvement was," the agent testified.
Hosseini says FBI agents interviewed him in jail in March, 2004, and cleared him as not a "person of interest." The FBI would neither confirm nor deny the assertion.
After several appeals, Hosseini finally won one battle: The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that he faces almost certain death in Iran as a result of the government's allegations, and barred DHS from deporting him until conditions improve in that country.
Thanks to that ruling, a lower court must now reconsider Hosseini's status in the US. It's up to DHS to decide if it will release him in the meantime.
Today, Hosseini says he wants nothing to do with politics. "They took four years of my life just because I told my opinion," he says. "I just want to go to work, come back, have my own family. I want to have a peaceful life."
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Albion Monitor October
11, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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