- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Mahnaz Samadi, an Iranian dissident and human rights activist, faces an Arlington, Va., immigration court Monday for a deportation hearing that could be a death sentence.

If the immigration judge decides that she is "inadmissible" for political asylum in the United States, she could be deported to Iran, where at the least she faces a lengthy jail term for opposing Iran's Islamic regime and could be executed.

"I have no doubt that I will be tortured to death, not simply executed," said Miss Samadi, in a telephone interview Thursday from the Richmond jail where she is being held.

She and her supporters, who include scores of congressmen and dozens of human rights organizations, fear she is being sacrificed by the Clinton administration as it seeks better U.S.-Iranian relations now that so-called "moderates" are in power in Tehran.

"I see the footprints of the Iranian regime and those in the Clinton administration who want better relations with Iran in my detention," she said.

The Iranian government press is already reporting that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has informed it that it "might" return Miss Samadi to Iran.

"I am appalled by reports that the INS intends to terminate [Miss Samadi's] asylum and deport her to Iran, where she would immediately face torture and perhaps even public execution," wrote Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, in a June 30 letter to INS Commissioner Doris M. Meissner requesting Miss Samadi's "immediate release."

Critics find similarities between Miss Samadi's case and the Elian Gonzalez situation.

"Both cases could be labeled as examples of the Clinton administration's policy of appeasement toward the pariah states of Cuba and Iran at the expense of these two innocent individuals," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

INS officials say Miss Samadi's detention was not politically motivated.

"That is ridiculous," said Russ Bergeron, spokesman for the INS. "Based on information developed in Canada, it would appear that she is ineligible for asylum. A judge will decide."

He said that if Miss Samadi were "associated or linked to a terrorist group" that could make her "inadmissible."

Miss Samadi, 35, survived four years of jail and torture at the hands of the Iranian government from 1982 to 1986 for supporting the political opposition. Her sister spent 10 years in prison and two of her brothers were executed.

After her release, Miss Samadi left Iran, eventually making her way to Iraq, where between 1993 and 1994, she spent several months working with the National Liberation Army (NLA), the military wing of the resistance to Iran, trying to "liberate Iran."

She severed ties with the NLA and came to the United States in 1994 and was granted political asylum in 1995. Over the next five years, she gained prominence in human rights circles, traveling freely around the United States to speak on human rights, in particular women's rights, in Iran.

She was never arrested or accused of violating any U.S. law, and she left the United States for speaking engagements and returned with no problem on several occasions.

In November last year on a visit to see family members in Canada, Miss Samadi was arrested and accused of being a danger to the public because of her former association with the NLA.

The official INS document accuses Miss Samadi of failing to report that she was a member of the NLA and of working to "liberate Iran."

Miss Samadi Thursday acknowledged working "to liberate Iran from the clutches of the mullahs," saying she would never stop until Iran was free, but she adamantly denied being a member of Iranian resistance organizations.

Her attorney, Michael Maggio, said that according to the law, the INS must prove she is currently a member of a terrorist group. He said that while Miss Samadi supports the goal of liberating Iran, she had not been a member of any designated group for years.

Her supporters accuse the INS of moving her around the country and throwing up bureaucratic obstacles to keep her from her lawyers.

After a jailhouse visit by a staff member, Mr. Torricelli's letter to the INS complained of "hostile behavior toward Ms. Samadi by jail officials, unnecessarily harsh security and restrictions inhibiting her religious expression."

In a June 27 letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, 62 members of Congress, led by Mr. Torricelli and Sen. John Ashcroft, Missouri Republican, have demanded her "immediate release." Human rights groups, including Freedom House, Jewish Women International, Pax Christi and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees describe her as a "political prisoner" in this country.

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