Four Iranian brothers jailed for more than three years as threats to U.S. national security have rejected a government offer of freedom, choosing to remain locked up rather than accept some of the restrictions governing their release.
The Mirmehdis -- Mohammed, 34, Mohsen, 37, Mojtaba, 41, and Mostafa, 45 -- refused the government's offer last week after studying 13 conditions for their release.
"We want to live with dignity. We don't want to live with these ridiculous conditions. We just want our freedom," said Mohammed Mirmehdi in a telephone interview from the federal detention facility on Terminal Island.
The brothers said they would propose their own conditions of release, but government officials were in no mood to compromise Friday.
"We are not going to release them until they sign the form," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under a Feb. 20 deadline to free them or find a legal reason to keep them locked up. It is unclear whether the government can insist upon similar release conditions once the deadline arrives.
The brothers said they could accept some of the restrictions, such as reporting to officials on a regular basis and not possessing weapons. But they said prohibitions against traveling more than 35 miles from their San Fernando Valley homes or changing addresses without government approval were unfair.
A condition not to be involved in terrorist activity was "just insulting," while another forbidding them from attending political demonstrations sponsored by the Iranian opposition group Moujahedeen Khalq, or MEK, is unconstitutional, said Mohsen Mirmehdi.
The MEK, which is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups, enjoys wide support in Congress.
Mohsen Mirmehdi said he and his brothers fear restrictions that prohibit them from associating with MEK members, supporters and associates are "a prelude to another arrest."
"How are we supposed to know who is an MEK sympathizer? Many people in the Iranian community don't like the government," he said. The Mirmehdis, who worked as real estate agents, have denied being MEK members, but said they are opponents of the Iranian government.
They were first arrested in 1999 in an FBI investigation of an MEK cell in Los Angeles and charged with lying on applications for political asylum. Court documents show that two FBI informants coached them to lie.
Immigration officials began deportation proceedings, but immigration judges blocked their deportations to Iran because they would be persecuted or tortured.
While immigration officers looked for another country that would accept the Mirmehdis, they were freed on bond.
They were arrested again on Oct. 2, 2001, and have been in custody since. An immigration appeals board has ruled that the brothers did not have ties to terrorism but upheld their deportations.
Last October, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mohsen and Mohammed Mirmehdi can stay in the United States and pursue an appeal they filed when the government denied their asylum applications.
But the court ruled that Mojtaba and Mostafa Mirmehdi can be deported if the United States can find a third country that will accept them because they failed to appeal the government's refusal to grant them asylum.