San Diego State University/File Photo

Reports emerged Tuesday that a San Diego State University graduate student has been sentenced in a Tehran secret trial to 18 years in prison for espionage and “collaboration with a hostile government.”

Gholamrez “Robin” Shahini, a 46-year-old Iranian-American who lives in San Diego, is the latest dual national held and convicted in Tehran, the Associated Press is reporting. The 18-year sentence is believed to be the harshest handed down in what analysts say is a plan by Tehran hardliners to use detainees as bargaining chips in future negotiations, the AP reported.

In July, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that a man was detained by Iranian intelligence officials on July 11; his identity and charges against him were not revealed in the report. The story went on to speculate that Shahini was the detainee.

Vice News has interviewed Shahini from prison. He told the news agency he was visiting his mother in northeast Iran when he was arrested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps while walking to a restaurant with friends.

“It was a terrifying moment, and they blindfolded me and they took me to the custody and I did not know where I was. They were interrogating me every morning, every afternoon, and I was always by myself in my cell,” he told Vice News.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Vice News that Shahini’s prison sentence is severe.  “That is an unprecedented sentence for that charge,” he said. “It’s extremely harsh. It really demonstrates that the Iranian judiciary is out of bounds.”

Shahini is planning to go on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, according to the Vice News report.

Media outlets from around the globe have stated that Iran has been holding people with dual citizenships (Iran and a second country, including the U.S., Britain, Canada and France), and may be holding them in order to make prisoner swaps. Iran doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, which bars embassy officials from visiting such detainees.

Shahini, who left Iran in 1998, studied international security and conflict resolution and was set to start a master’s program in homeland security this fall.

According to the AP, Shahini graduated in May from SDSU with a degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution. He had been accepted to the university’s graduate program in Homeland Security, but had not registered for classes yet.

–City News contributed to this report.

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