The plight of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained for almost six years in Iran on spying charges, focused attention on Iranians with dual nationality or foreign permanent residency being held in the Islamic Republic’s prisons.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality, and there are no exact figures on the number of such detainees given the sensitive nature of the information. Some of the most prominent are:
Morad Tahbaz (Iran-UK-US)
The 67-year-old businessman and wildlife conservationist, who also holds American and British citizenship, was arrested during a crackdown on environmental activists in January 2018. His Canadian-Iranian colleague, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody a few weeks later in unexplained circumstances.
The authorities accused Tahbaz and seven other conservationists of collecting classified information about Iran’s strategic areas under the pretext of carrying out environmental and scientific projects.
The conservationists – members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation – had been using cameras to track endangered species including the Asiatic cheetah and Persian leopard, according to Amnesty International.
UN human rights experts said it was “hard to fathom how working to preserve the Iranian flora and fauna can possibly be linked to conducting espionage against Iranian interests”, while a government committee concluded that there was no evidence to suggest they were spies.
But in October 2018, Tahbaz and three of his fellow conservationists were charged with “corruption on earth”, which carries the death penalty. The charge was later changed to “co-operating with the hostile state of the US”. Three others were charged with espionage, and a fourth was accused of acting against national security.
All eight denied the charges and Amnesty International said there was evidence that they had been subjected to torture in order to extract forced “confessions”.
In November 2019, they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to 10 years and ordered to return allegedly “illicit income”.
Human Rights Watch denounced what it said was an unfair trial, during which the defendants were apparently unable to see the full dossier of evidence against them.
The Court of Appeals reportedly upheld Tahbaz’s convictions in February 2020.
UN human rights experts warned in January 2021 that Tahbaz’s health had continuously deteriorated during his imprisonment and that he had been denied access to proper treatment.
In March 2022, then-UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Tahbaz had been released from Evin prison on furlough.
The announcement came on the same day that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow British national Anoosheh Ashoori were released by Iran and allowed to return to the UK.
However, Tahbaz was returned to Evin just two days later. The UK Foreign Office said the Iranians had told them it was so that he could be fitted with an electronic ankle tag.
He was not allowed to resume his furlough and subsequently went on hunger strike for nine days to protest against his continued detention.
His daughter Roxanne said in April 2022 that he had “made it very clear that he feels abandoned” by the UK government.
The Foreign Office said Iran “committed to releasing Morad from prison on an indefinite furlough”, but had “failed to honour that commitment”.
In August 2023, Tahbaz was taken out of Evin and moved to house arrest along with three other Americans – including Siamak Namazi and Emad Shargi – after the US and Iran agreed a prisoner exchange.
In return for allowing them and a fifth American already under home confinement to leave, the US will reportedly release five Iranians jailed there and allow Iran to access $6bn (£4.7bn) of assets frozen in South Korea.
Siamak Namazi (Iran-US)
Siamak Namazi, 51, worked as head of strategic planning at Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum.
He was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in October 2015, while his father Baquer, 86, was arrested in February 2016 after Iranian officials granted him permission to visit his son in prison.
That October, they were both sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Revolutionary Court for “co-operating with a foreign enemy state”. An appeals court upheld their sentence in August 2017.
Their lawyer said they denied the charges against them. He also complained that they had been held in solitary confinement and denied access to legal representation, and had suffered health problems. Siamak is also alleged to have been tortured.
Baquer was released to house arrest on medical grounds in 2018, but his health continued to deteriorate. His sentence was commuted to time served in early 2020, but he was only allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment in October 2022.
In January 2023, Siamak went on a week-long hunger strike to protest against the failure of the US to free him and other dual nationals despite President Joe Biden’s promise to make bringing them home a top priority.
Seven months later, Siamak was again released to house arrest in anticipation of a prisoner exchange agreed by the US and Iran.
His brother, Babak, said in response: “While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home; we continue to count the days until this can happen.”
Emad Shargi (Iran-US)
The Iranian-American businessman and his wife moved to Iran from the US in 2017.
Shargi, who is 58, was initially detained by the Revolutionary Guards in April 2018, when he was working in sales for Sarava, an Iranian venture capital fund. He was released on bail that December, when officials told him that a court had cleared him of spying charges that he had denied. However, authorities refused to return his passport.
In November 2020, Shargi was summoned by a Revolutionary Court and told that he had been convicted of espionage in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison, his family said. He was not imprisoned immediately and was released on bail ahead of an appeal.
In January 2021, Iran’s judiciary spokesman said an unnamed “defendant” facing spying charges had been arrested as he attempted to leave the country while on bail. It came a week after a state-backed news agency reported that Shargi had been detained while trying to cross Iran’s western border illegally.
His daughters wrote in the Washington Post in April 2021 that he was “trapped in terrible conditions” in prison and that he had only been allowed a couple of short, monitored phone calls.
In August 2023, Shargi was released to house arrest in anticipation of a prisoner exchange between the US and Iran.
His sister, Neda, said in a statement: “My family has faith in the work that President Biden and government officials have undertaken to bring our families home and hope to receive that news soon.”
Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden)
The 51-year-old specialist in emergency medicine was arrested in April 2016 while on a business trip from Sweden.
Amnesty International said Djalali was held at Evin prison by intelligence ministry officials for seven months, three of them in solitary confinement, before he was given access to a lawyer.
He alleged that he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, including threats to kill or otherwise harm his children, who live in Sweden, and his mother, who lives in Iran.
In October 2017, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran convicted Djalali of “spreading corruption on Earth” and sentenced him to death. His lawyers said the court relied primarily on evidence obtained under duress and alleged that he was prosecuted solely because of his refusal to use his academic ties in European institutions to spy for Iran.
Two months later, Iranian state television also aired what it said was footage of Djalali confessing that he had spied on Iran’s nuclear programme for Israel. It suggested he was responsible for identifying two Iranian nuclear scientists who were killed in bomb attacks in 2010.
In February 2018, Sweden confirmed that it had given Djalali citizenship and demanded that his death sentence not be carried out. He had previously been a permanent resident.
In November 2021, Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehran-Nia, said he had been informed by prison authorities that he faced imminent execution. He spent five months in solitary confinement, awaiting execution, until April 2021, when he reportedly was moved to a multi-occupancy cell.
Just over a year later, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said Djalali’s death sentence was “final” and was “on the agenda” of authorities.
He also insisted that the case was not linked to the war crimes trial in Sweden of former Iranian judiciary official Hamid Nouri, who was sentenced to life in prison over what prosecutors said was his leading role in the mass executions of Iranian opposition supporters in 1988.
Djalali’s wife and human rights groups have said Djalali is a “hostage” who Iran is threatening to execute in an attempt to negotiate a swap for Mr Nouri.
Nahid Taghavi (Iran-Germany)
The 68-year-old retired architect, who is a German-Iranian dual national, was arrested at her apartment in Tehran in October 2020 and accused of “endangering security”.
She was placed in solitary confinement at Evin prison and not given access to lawyers, German diplomats or members of her family, according to her daughter Mariam Claren.
Taghavi was repeatedly subjected to coercive questioning without the presence of lawyers, according to Amnesty International. Interrogators reportedly asked her about meeting people to discuss women’s and labour rights, and possessing literature about those issues.
In August 2021, she was convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran of “forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. She was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison.
Taghavi had denied the charges, the first of which was apparently related to a social media account about women’s rights, and Amnesty said the trial was “grossly unfair”.
Ms Claren wrote on Twitter that her mother “did not commit any crime. Unless freedom of speech, freedom of thought are illegal”.
She has said her mother has been denied adequate healthcare by prison and prosecution authorities, despite doctors saying in September 2021 that she needed surgery on her spinal column.
In July 2022, Taghavi was granted urgent medical leave from prison for treatment for back and neck problems. She was sent back to Evin four months later.
A fellow inmate in the prison warned in June 2023 that Taghavi’s life was “in danger” following a further 220 days in solitary confinement.
“The pain is so severe that it can be clearly seen on her face. She can barely get out of her bed,” a message posted on human rights activist Narges Mohammadi’s Instagram account said.
Fariba Adelkhah (Iran-France)
The 64-year-old researcher at Sciences-Po university in Paris is a specialist in social anthropology and the political anthropology of post-revolutionary Iran, and has written a number of books.
At the time of her arrest in Tehran in June 2019, she was examining the movement of Shia clerics between Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, and had spent time in the holy city of Qom.
Adelkhah was accused of espionage and other security-related offences.
She protested her innocence and after going on hunger strike, she was admitted to hospital for treatment for severe kidney damage.
Prosecutors dropped the espionage charge before her trial began at the Revolutionary Court in April 2020. The following month, the court sentenced Adelkhah to five years in prison for conspiring against national security and an additional year for propaganda against the establishment.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the sentence and demanded her release.
In October 2020, due to what Sciences-Po called her “health circumstances”, Adelkhah was released on bail and allowed to return to her home in Tehran.
However, Iran’s judiciary announced in January 2022 that it had returned Adelkhah to prison, accusing her of “knowingly violating the limits of house arrest dozens of times”. French President Emmanuel Macron called the decision “entirely arbitrary”.
In February 2023, Adelkhah Adelkhah was released from Evin prison after three and a half years in detention.
However, Iranian authorities refused to return her identity papers, making it impossible for her to leave the country or resume her work as a researcher.
Jamshid Sharmahd (Iran-Germany)
Sharmahd, 68, who lived in the US, arrived in the United Arab Emirates in July 2020 and was awaiting a connecting flight to India when he disappeared. It is believed that he was kidnapped by Iranian agents in Dubai and then forcibly taken to Iran via Oman.
The following month, Iran’s intelligence ministry announced that it had arrested Sharmahd following a “complex operation”, without providing any details. It also published a video in which he appeared blindfolded and confessed to various crimes.
In February 2023, Iran’s judiciary said Sharmahd had been sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran after being found guilty of “spreading corruption on Earth through planning and leading terror operations”.
It alleged that he was the leader of a terrorist group known as Tondar and that he had “planned 23 terror attacks”, of which “five were successful”, including the 2008 bombing of a mosque in Shiraz in that killed 14 people.
Tondar – which means “thunder” in Persian – is another name of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran (KAI), a little-known US-based opposition group that seeks to restore the monarchy overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
According to Amnesty International, Sharmahd created a website to publish statements from the KAI, including claims of explosions inside Iran.
He also read out statements in radio and video broadcasts.
However, he denied his involvement in the attacks, saying he was only a spokesman, and rejected all accusations during his trial.
Amnesty said Sharmahd told his family that he had been tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment in detention, including by being held in prolonged solitary confinement.
He also told them that he had been denied adequate healthcare, with access to medications required for his Parkinson’s disease delayed routinely.
In July, Sharmahd’s daughter Gazelle told the BBC that he could be executed at any time.
“They’re killing him softly in solitary confinement in this death cell. But even if he survives that, they’re killing him by hanging him from a crane in public,” she said.
Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani (Iran-Canada)
The accountant was an adviser to the governor of Iran’s central bank and was a member of the Iranian negotiating team for the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in charge of financial issues.
He was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in August 2016 just before he was due to board a flight to Canada, and was accused of “selling the country’s economic details to foreigners”.
In May 2017, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran convicted Dorri Esfahani of espionage charges, including “collaborating with the British secret service”, and sentenced him to five years in prison.
That October an appeals court upheld Dorri Esfahani’s sentence, despite then-Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi insisting that he was innocent.
Dorri Esfahani was due to complete his sentence in 2022, but there were no reports of his release.
Iranians with foreign permanent residency
Dalili is a retired Iranian merchant navy captain who is a US permanent resident.
He has been detained in Iran since April 2016, when he visited Tehran to attend his father’s funeral. He was later convicted of “collaborating with a hostile state” and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In August 2023, his son, Darian, said he was not part of the prisoner exchange deal between the US and Iran.
“He feels betrayed. He is demoralized. He believes that the US would bring back anyone that they want to bring back,” Darian told Reuters news agency.
A US state department spokesman declined to tell reporters why Dalili was not included, but did reveal he had not yet been declared “wrongfully detained” – a designation that would mean the department dedicated more resources to their case and assigned it to a presidential envoy.
Source » bbc