TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s judiciary said Sunday that the brother of President Hassan Rouhani has been detained and an American citizen has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars for “infiltrating” the country.
The identity of the U.S. citizen was not immediately clear and did not directly match the background of anyone known to be held in the Islamic Republic.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi announced both developments during a press briefing with journalists.
He said Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereidoun, was taken into custody over allegations of financial impropriety and is eligible for bail, but has not paid it yet.
Fereidoun is a close confidante of the moderate president, a cleric who changed his surname to Rouhani, meaning “spiritual,” after joining the seminary decades ago.
Fereidoun was part of the negotiating team that ultimately sealed Iran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, winning the country relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its atomic energy program.
The deal was unpopular with Iranian hard-liners, whose influence runs deep within the judiciary. They saw the nuclear deal as giving too much away in exchange for too little.
Fereidoun has long been a target of hard-liners, who have accused him of misdeeds including money laundering and misappropriation of government funds.
The unproven allegations were a flashpoint during the May presidential election, with the president’s hard-line challengers demanding that the judiciary investigate accusations against Fereidoun. Rouhani trounced his nearest opponent to secure a second term in office in the first round of voting.
The U.S. citizen whose sentence was also announced Sunday faces 10 years in prison.
“It was verified and determined that he was gathering (information) and was involved in infiltration,” Ejehi said.
The judiciary spokesman did not elaborate on what charges led to the conviction, which he said could be appealed, or say when the verdict was handed down.
The suspect was not named but was described as a dual national of the United States and another foreign country.
The most likely possibility is that Ejehi was referring to Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocates for Internet freedom. He lives in Washington D.C. and has done work for the U.S. government. He went missing in Iran in September 2015.
Permanent residents do not hold American citizenship, but they have the right to live in the U.S. indefinitely and are eligible to apply for it after living in the country for several years.
Zakka, however, was already known to have been sentenced to 10 years behind bars last year after being accused of espionage-related charges.
Other American dual nationals who have been taken into custody and remain in Iran include Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi.