Relatives of Jailed Dual and Foreign Nationals Launch Alliance Against Iran’s “Hostage-Taking” Amid UNGA
The day before Iran’s speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, the families of dual and foreign nationals who were formerly imprisoned in the country as well as former prisoners launched the Alliance of Families Against State Hostage Taking.
Announced at a September 24, 2019, press conference in New York City by family members of current prisoners including Iranian-American business consultant Siamak Namazi, Iranian-British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and American Princeton scholar Xiyue Wang, the group’s stated aim is to “raise awareness of individual cases, and the wider phenomenon of state hostage-taking.”
“It’s important to really underscore that we [families] have really gone out on a limb here,” said alliance member Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak has been serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran since 2015. “We don’t know the consequences of speaking out publicly.”
“This is not an American, a British, or an Iranian problem,” Namazi added. “This is becoming endemic and becoming extremely important to view as an international problem and bring attention to [Iran’s] horrific behavior.”
Ali Rezaian, whose brother Jason was released from Iran in a U.S.-Iran prisoner swap deal in 2016, said Iran is holding many more dual and foreign nationals than is publicly known.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of people who are being held there illegally, for no reason,” said Rezaian.
“When I was working on this, they said don’t call them hostages, it will make them mad,” he added. “Well, they held my brother for 18 months and that’s what he was.”
Babak Namazi and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe were denied a meeting at the Iranian Mission to the UN in New York on the morning of September 24 when they went there to advocate for their loved ones’ freedom.
Previously, on September 17, Babak Namazi, Ratcliffe, and Sarah (Levinson) Moriarty, the daughter of American citizen Robert Levinson who was last seen in Iran in March 2007, sent a letter to President Rouhani urging him to meet with them in New York.
The Iranian government did not respond to the letter, which stated that “our loved ones have been found by the United Nations to be held illegally and in violation of international law. And in these judgments, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also urged their immediate and unconditional release.”
At least 14 dual and foreign nationals are currently imprisoned in Iran after being arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or the Intelligence Ministry, according to research by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Iran does not recognize dual nationality and has denied most of these prisoners consular access.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s April 2019 statement during at the Asia Society that he has the “authority” to exchange Iranian-Americans imprisoned in Iran with the US was a glaring admission that these prisoners are being used as political hostages.
On September 19, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding that all EU-Iranian dual nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (British), Ahmadreza Djalali (Swedish) and Kamran Ghaderi (Austrian) “currently detained in Iranian prisons be immediately released, unless they are retried according to international standards.”
The resolution also urged the Iranian authorities to cooperate without further ado with EU member states’ embassies in Tehran to establish a comprehensive list of EU-Iranian dual nationals currently detained in the country, and to closely monitor each individual case.
The resolution was adopted by 608 votes in favor, 7 against and 46 abstentions.
The newly launched alliance includes former prisoners in Iran including Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka, Iranian-American dual national Saeed Abedini, and their family members such as Ali Rezaian (Jason Rezaian’s brother) and Maryam Malekpour (the sister of formerly imprisoned Canadian permanent resident Saeed Malekpour).
“Most governments have continued to counsel quiet diplomacy to the individuals held while more people have been taken,” said a press statement by the Free Nazanin campaign. “This has not provided an effective check. Indeed in some ways, silence can be enabling.”
“We believe that limiting the spread of hostage diplomacy should be an issue on the UN Security Council’s agenda,” added the statement.
On September 24, former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would obey a court order to pay a long-standing debt to Iran, but added the payment should not be linked to the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
“We obey court rulings, but what we will not do is link it to the release of a hostage because if you do that you then you encourage countries like Iran to take hostages in the future when they have another dispute,” Hunt told BBC Radio 4.
Read this article in Persian.