Middle East

Iran's jailed dual nationals and their uncertain fate

Richard Ratcliffe with wife Nazanin and daughter Gabriella Image copyright PA
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year sentence in Iran

The plight of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of spying, has focused attention on other people with dual nationality or foreign permanent residency who are languishing in the Islamic Republic's prisons.

Iran does not recognise dual nationality and there are no exact figures on the number of detainees given the sensitive nature of the information. Beside Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, some of the most prominent are:

Siamak and Baquer Namazi (Iran-US)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Baquer Namazi (left) and his son Siamak (right) are two of at least four US citizens in detention

Siamak Namazi worked as head of strategic planning at Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum. He advocated improved relations between Iran and the United States.

He was interrogated by intelligence officials when he landed at Tehran airport in July 2015 and was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards that October.

His octogenarian father Baquer, a retired Unicef official, was arrested in February 2016 after officials granted him permission to visit his son at Evin Prison in Tehran.

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 physically.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in September 2017 that the Namazis' imprisonment violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and demanded their release.

In March 2018, Baquer was given medical leave from prison and placed under house arrest. That November, the Namazi family warned that his health was rapidly deteriorating and appealed to the Iranian authorities to let him leave the country for medical treatment. They said he had a heart condition and epilepsy.

Xiyue Wang (US-China)

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Xiyue Wang, seen here with his wife and son, was researching the history of the Qajar dynasty

XiyueWang, a naturalised American from Beijing, was a PhD student at Princeton University.

He was arrested in August 2016 while studying Persian and conducting research at Iran's public national archives for his dissertation on the history of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1785 until 1925.

Wang's detention was not disclosed until July 2017, when Iran said he had been convicted of "co-operating with an enemy state" and sentenced to 10 years in prison. That September, a court of appeal upheld the sentence.

Princeton said the charge against Wang was false and that his conviction and imprisonment were unjust.

In November 2017, Iranian state TV broadcast a video in which it alleged that Wang had sought to obtain documents on behalf of the US government. Wang appeared in the video saying that "the more the US has more information about Iran, the better they can set the policies".

In August 2018, a UN working group concluded that Wang's detention was arbitrary and was "motivated by the fact that he is a United States citizen".

Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death in October 2017

The specialist in emergency medicine was arrested in April 2016 while on a business trip from Sweden.

Amnesty International said Djalali was held at Tehran's 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 he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period to force him to "confess" to being a spy. He said he was detained because he had refused to use his ties in European academic and other institutions to spy for Iran.

In October 2017, Djalali was convicted of "spreading corruption on earth" and sentenced to death after a trial at which his lawyers said the court relied primarily on evidence obtained under duress.

Tehran's prosecutor said an unnamed person convicted of the same charge had passed to Israeli operatives the addresses of 30 Iranian nuclear and military scientists - two of whom were killed in bomb attacks in 2010.

In December 2017, Iran's Supreme Court upheld Djalali's death sentence.

In July 2019, UN human rights experts said he had been denied access to appropriate healthcare, despite tests indicating that he might have cancer.

Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani (Iran-Canada)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani was a member of Iran's nuclear deal negotiating team

The accountant was an adviser to the governor of Iran's central bank and was a member of Iran's nuclear deal negotiating team, 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 on espionage charges, including "collaborating with the British secret service", and sentenced him to five years in prison.

The following October an appeals court upheld Dorri Esfahani's sentence, despite Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi insisting that he was innocent.

"The authority in charge of matters concerning espionage is the intelligence ministry's counter-intelligence division, and as far as this division is concerned, Mr Dorri Esfahani has not committed any act of espionage," Mr Alavi said.

"In fact, he wisely resisted plots hatched against him by foreign intelligence agencies and co-operated with the intelligence ministry's counter-intelligence division," he added.

However, the judiciary's Mizan Online news agency dismissed Mr Alavi's comments, citing sources as saying there was no law stipulating the interior ministry was "the sole authority responsible for certifying or rejecting that an act of espionage has taken place".

Morad Tahbaz (Iran-US-UK)

Image copyright MORAD TAHBAZ
Image caption Morad Tahbaz and fellow conservationists were using cameras to track endangered species

The 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", a capital offence. Three others were charged with espionage, and a fourth was accused of "co-operating with a foreign enemy state".

Amnesty said there was evidence the conservationists were subjected to torture in order to extract forced "confessions". It called their trial "grossly unfair".

Michael White (US)

Image copyright CBS
Image caption Michael R White in an undated photograph

The US Navy veteran was detained in the north-eastern city of Mashhad in July 2018 after travelling there to visit his Iranian girlfriend, whom he had met online, his family said. Iranian officials said he was held in connection with a complaint by an "individual plaintiff".

In February 2019, Iranian media cited Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Panahiazar as saying there was "no security or espionage issue on the table". But the following month, a prosecutor in Mashhad said a "verdict has been issued" against White over an unspecified security-related charge.

White's mother, Joanne, has insisted that he is not a spy and rejected the notion that he committed a crime against the Iranian state.

She said in March that he was undergoing cancer treatment, and alleged that he was beaten after his arrest and taken to court at least twice for proceedings in Persian that he could not understand. The Iranian authorities said they were treating Mr White humanely.

Robert Levinson (US)

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In 2011, photographs were sent to Robert Levinson's family showing him in an orange jumpsuit

The private investigator, a former FBI agent, has been missing since he disappeared during a trip to the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007.

The US government says Mr Levinson was working there on behalf of several large corporations. However, US media report that he was an unauthorised mission for the Central Intelligence Agency, and that while on Kish he met with the American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin.

He says Mr Levinson told him that he was investigating cigarette smuggling in the Gulf, and that after their meeting they were detained by Iranian security forces.

In 2011, photographs were sent to Mr Levinson's family showing him in an orange jumpsuit and holding a sign saying: "Help me." Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she believed he was being held "somewhere in south-west Asia".

Mr Levinson's wife, Christine, told a US congressional committee in March 2019 that he had been "left behind, deprioritised, or seemingly forgotten" by successive US administrations.

The Iranian government has denied knowing his status or location, but the US continues to call on it to return him to his family. The FBI has offered a $5m reward for information that leads to his "safe location, recovery, and return".

Kamal Foroughi (Iran-UK)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Kamal Foroughi's health is said to have deteriorated in prison

The 79-year-old former consultant with the oil and gas company Petronas was detained in May 2011.

He was held - mostly in solitary confinement - without access to a lawyer until the day before a court hearing in early 2013. He was later convicted of "espionage" and sentenced to seven years in prison following what human rights activists said was an unfair trial.

Foroughi, whose health has deteriorated in prison, has been eligible for release for several years under Iran's own laws. However, it is believed he is still in jail.

Kamran Ghaderi (Iran-Austria)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Kamran Ghaderi's wife insisted that he was a "simple businessman"

The CEO of an Austria-based IT management and consulting company, Avanoc, was detained during a business trip to Iran in January 2016.

That October, an Iranian prosecutor said Ghaderi had been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of espionage and co-operating with a hostile state.

His wife insisted that he was a "simple businessman" who was unjustly imprisoned, while human rights groups said he was coerced into confessing to spying.

Ghaderi's physical and mental health has deteriorated in prison. In July 2019, UN human rights experts said he had been denied appropriate medical treatment, despite having a tumour in his leg.

Karen Vafadari and Afarin Neyssari (Iran-US)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Karan Vafadari and Afarin Nayssari were reportedly released on bail in 2018

The couple, who are Zoroastrians, own a well-known art gallery. They were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards at Tehran's international airport in July 2016.

Two weeks later, the Tehran prosecutor announced that "two Iranian dual nationals" had been charged with hosting parties for foreign diplomats and Iranian associates during which men and women mixed and alcohol was served.

Iran's constitution says adherents of Zoroastrianism - an ancient, pre-Islamic religion - are not subject to Islamic laws on alcohol and mixed gender gatherings.

In early 2017, further charges were brought against Vafadari and his wife, including "co-operation with enemies of the state", "activities to overthrow the regime" and "recruitment of spies through foreign embassies".

In January 2018, Vafadari wrote in a letter from Evin prison saying that a Revolutionary Court had sentenced him to 27 years in jail and his wife to 16 years, according to the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). He vigorously rejected all the charges they faced.

The couple's sentences were later reduced to 15 years and 10 years respectively, their son said.

In July 2018, the authorities reportedly released them on bail, pending an appeal.

Saeed Malekpour (Iran-Canada)

Image copyright Center for Human Rights in Iran
Image caption Saeed Malekpour's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment

The web programmer, an Iranian national with permanent residency in Canada, was arrested in October 2008 while visiting his father, who was in poor health, in Iran.

In late 2010, he was sentenced to death for "spreading corruption on earth" in connection with a programme he created for uploading photos to the web that the Iranian authorities said was used on Persian-language pornographic websites. Malekpour said the programme was open source and that it was used by other websites without his knowledge.

In 2012, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, reportedly after he "repented".

Canada's foreign ministry has said the legal process which resulted in his conviction was highly questionable.

Malekpour said he was tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment following his arrest, and that he was denied medical care for the injuries he sustained. He added that his televised "confessions" were made under torture.

Aras Amiri (Iran-UK)

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption The British Council said Aras Amiri helped build greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK

The British Council employee, who lived in London, was detained in March 2018 while visiting her elderly grandmother, and was charged two months later with "acting against national security".

In May 2019, Iran's judiciary said an unnamed Iranian woman who was "in charge of the Iran desk at the British Council" had been convicted of spying. The woman had used contacts with arts and theatre groups to "influence and infiltrate" Iran at a cultural level, it alleged.

The British Council's chief executive, Sir CiarĂ¡n Devane, said he believed the woman was Amiri, and expressed dismay at the sentence.

"We firmly refute the accusation levied against her," he added, noting that Amiri had been employed to help build greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK.

Fariba Adelkhah (Iran-France)

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fariba Adelkhah's research focused on political and social anthropology

The anthropologist and researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris was reportedly detained in Tehran in June 2019. She is believed to have been carrying out research in the holy city of Qom.

IranWire, an online news website run by Iranian expatriates, cited sources as saying that Ms Adelkhah was being held "on probable charges of espionage".

In July, the French foreign ministry said it had been informed of Ms Adelkhah's arrest. It called on the Iranian authorities to "shed full light" on her situation and allow diplomats to visit her in prison.

Iran's government has declined to say what charges she faces.