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Saeed Bashirtash, Episod I

Humanitarian Visas


Saeed Bashirtash is a 55-year-old implant surgeon and dentist based in Brussels, Belgium. He describes himself as a “nationalist”. While living in Iran, he was very close to the “Nation Party of Iran” and organized a series of protests for the party’s youth organization in response to the 1988-1998 chain murders of Iran. However, it is rather ambiguous whether the forementioned organization contributed to the 1999 Kuye Daneshgah.(1)


Bashirtash fled to Turkey in the midst of Kuye Daneshgah Distaster. Shortly afterwards, his wife, Darya Safai, who had been detained for some time, joined him in Turkey. The couple then left Turkey for Belgium. It’s said that their immigration “project” to Belgium was carried out with the help of former Iranian president, Abolhassan Banisadr.(2)


In recent years, Saeed Bashirtash has been active as a political analyst on Iranian foreign-based news channels. His appearance on Manoto TV has probably played a role in his raise to fame.




Up until 2015, Bashirtash was a staunch supporter of the reform movement centered on Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Seyyed Mehdi Karroubi. He attended in several pro-Green Movement events, such as a meeting that took place in Cologne, Germany on February 14th, 2015-- where he participated as a speaker together with Ali Alizadeh, Taghi Karroubi, and Ardeshir Amirarjomand.(3)



Recently, many Iranian social media users started talking about the “fraudulent humanitarian visa” that Bashirtash had obtained for some Iranian asylum-seekers living in Turkey. In mid-December 2020, rumors of a number of refugees who were transported to Belgium from Turkey, circulated among online users. Users were concerned about two groups of asylum-seekers:(4)


1) Those who were taken to Belgium

2) Those on the waiting list for the administrative process to obtain a visa.


Political activists such as Dariush Zand, Shima Bababee, and Maryam Shariatmadari were among the first group.




The second group was the subject of much controversy and provoked strong reactions among online users. The names on the waiting list suggested that they had the right connection or shared the right beliefs. It appeared that Bashirtash’s intention was to establish an informal and invisible network whose members had special skills. What stands out the most is the fact that these individuals were active on social media platforms. They did not seem to be in a politically critical situation that needed immediate relocation to a third country.

 

Let’s look at two cases from the waiting list:


Sharagim Manteghian, better known as “Sharagim Zand”, works for IranWire. According to Zand himself, he was a blogger. He fled to Turkey after receiving a phone call from one of Islamic Republic security organizations. He then applied for asylum. In 2017, as Zand mentioned on his Twitter, he supported President Rouhani and cast his ballot at the Iranian embassy’s polling station.






The second person on the waiting list is Javad Motevali, another IranWire employee. He was also a reformist and a supporter of President Rouhani. According to a photo he posted of himself in front of the Iranian embassy in Ankara on the election day, he probably voted for Rouhani as well.




Examining this list takes us to an interesting conclusion. The majority of people on the waiting list are IranWire and Tavana employees. There was no monarchist among them.


In January 2021, Belgium’s State Security Service sent a report to Sammy Mahdi, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, and suspended all visas to be issued for Bashirtash’s list. Mahdi filed the report with the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office for further investigation and validation.


Later on, De Morgen, the renowned Flemish newspaper, stepped forward and covered some of the details related to Bashirtash’s list.


In March 2021, De Morgen interviewed Kaveh Taheri, one of the asylum-seekers in Turkey who were promised by Bashirtash to be granted asylum in Belgium on an expedited basis. In that interview, Taheri stated that the humanitarian visas do not follow a fair process and people included in the list belong to certain social groups. It soon became clear that practically no action had been taken to issue a visa for Kaveh Taheri and several other asylum-seekers. It seems that by promising people that they will be granted asylum, Bashirtash was in fact trying to buy time in order to furtively transport particular individuals from Turkey to Belgium. Taheri expressed his disappointment toward the selection process and said that Bashirtash’s aim was to build a network of people in Belgium.(5)


Bashirtash reacted to this report on his Twitter, suspecting that the agents of the Islamic regime played a role in the flow of rumors in an attempt to harm the reputation of his wife, Darya Safai, who is a N-VA member of parliament. Earlier, during a speech in the Belgian parliament, Safai had warned against the case of Assadollah Asadi, an Iranian diplomat who planned a bomb attack in France against a gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Meanwhile, the Belgian prosecutor’s office announced that further investigation may take place after examining the evidence.(6)


Bashirtash tried to limit the scope of accusations about immigration visas and narrow the discussions to whether he and Darya Safayi had received payments in exchange to giving immigration visas. However, the nature of accusations are broader and involve favoritism and other forms of quid pro quo and influence peddling in the immigration process


After Bashirtash’s tweet, the people whose names were included in the list, as well as a number of Bashirtash’s friends and associates, began to support him. Through a letter sent to the Belgian officials, a number of political activists who supported Bashirtash, such as Abolhassan Banisadr, warned against the suspension of issuing visas.(7) Alan (Mohammad Ali) Tofighi (a former adviser to the Kurdistan state government during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency) and Mohammad Tangestan (an IranWire employee) were among Bashirtash’s supporters. Tangestani conducted an interview with Bashirtash on his Radio Abaan, where he avidly supported him.





As the stories of female refugees who accused Tangestani of sexual harassment went viral, Bashirtash controversy returned to the forefront of the news.(8)


To conclude, let’s consider these three questions:


Firstly, what is the position of Seed Bashirtash in regard to obtaining visas for particular groups of people?


Secondly, on what basis and criteria were these people selected?


Finally, why was this process done secretly? According to present information, Bashirtash has been consulting with various groups about this project over the past several months. Did these groups play a role in compiling the list that Bashirtash had prepared? Is this the reason? Did the Belgian security service discover fraudulent humanitarian visas independently, or did the Persian-language reports on social media had an impact?


Answering these questions can shed light on the dark dimensions of this project. Bashirtash, however, is reluctant to respond.


To Be Continued…




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