On Aug. 14, four Iranian immigrant brothers filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Los Angeles against former attorney general John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller III, FBI Agent Christopher Castillo and other officials, charging that the government detained them illegally for nearly four years to punish them for refusing to work as informants.
Mohsen, Mohammad, Mojtaba and Mostafa Mirmehdi were ordered deported in 1999 for allegedly having lied on their asylum applications. They were detained on Oct. 2, 2001 on immigration violations and denied release because of their alleged support for the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group. The MEK was added to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations in 1997, but dozens of members of the US Congress have expressed support for the group since then. The Mirmehdi brothers admitted attending demonstrations in the US sponsored by the MEK, but deny having been members or associates of the group. On Aug. 20, 2004, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled that the Mirmehdis have no ties to terrorism. The BIA upheld their deportations but said they could not be sent back to Iran because they could be tortured there for anti-government activities. The four brothers were finally released on March 16, 2005; they live in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, where three of them work as real estate agents.
According to the 49-page complaint, FBI agent Castillo relied on informants who falsely identified the brothers as associates of the MEK. Castillo then tried “to force their cooperation through continued punitive detention, even after admitting that a crucial informant had been ‘just speculating’ when he described the Mirmehdis as associates of the MEK,” the lawsuit states. “Castillo approached the Mirmehdis on no less than five occasions to demand their cooperation in exchange for freedom.” According to the lawsuit, if Castillo had not provided “false and misleading testimony” at a 2001 hearing–where he was the government’s only witness and portrayed the brothers as security threats–the Mirmehdis could have been released on bond as early as Dec. 10 of that year. (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 15)
The lawsuit also claims the brothers suffered mistreatment in detention, including being locked down in isolation for up to 23 hours a day, being strip-searched after every visit with their attorneys, having their phone calls with attorneys illegally monitored, being denied medical care and being subjected to “routine ethnic insults and prejudice.” The lawsuit seeks attorney fees and unspecified damages, but Mohsen Mirmehdi said its intention is to hold government officials accountable. “They accused us of something we weren’t a part of. They ruined our reputations and our business.” (LAT, Aug. 15; CBS2.com, Aug. 14)
“The Mirmehdi brothers were casualties of the war on terror and had their lives destroyed based on the misconduct of the federal officials who sought their detention knowing that they had only engaged in peaceful First Amendment activity in opposition to the current regime in Iran,” said attorney Paul Hoffman. [AP 8/14/06]
From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 26