Human Rights

Iran Tells Family of Arrested British Woman to Pressure UK Government to Make “Exchange”

The family of a British-Iranian woman who was arrested in Tehran earlier this year was told to pressure the British government “to reach an agreement” in order to close her case before trial, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was visiting family in Iran with her toddler, was detained at Tehran’s airport in April, separated from her child, and charged with the “design and implementation of cyber and media projects to cause the soft toppling of the Islamic Republic,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, called the charges “preposterous.” Ratcliffe told Reuters that his wife was told by an interrogator in late June that her case would be closed if some sort of deal was made with the British government. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s mother was reportedly told when visiting her daughter at the notorious Evin prison that the deal involved some sort of “exchange.”

Iran does not recognized dual citizenship, so dual nationals like Zaghar-Ratcliffe are denied access to the embassies of their second nationality. The British Foreign Office has raised Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, but officials have not been allowed to visit her.

The arrests of the dual citizens are frequently the work Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a powerful group that controls an estimated one-sixth of Iran’s economy and that has been strengthened in the wake of last year’s nuclear deal. The IRGC has arrested at least six dual-nationals in recent months, Reuters reported, noting that it was “the highest number of Iranians with dual-nationality detained at one time in recent years to have been acknowledged.”

These detainees include Parviz Tanavoli, a prominent Iranian-Canadian sculptor, who was barred from leaving Iran earlier this month; Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian scholar who was arrested earlier this year when she returned to Iran to see her family; Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi; British-Iranian businessman Kamal Foroughi; and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national with U.S. permanent residency.

“Analysts say that some of those prisoners have value for the Iranian authorities as possible bargaining chips in future swaps,” The New York Times noted while reporting on Hoodfar’s arrest.

Iran freed five detained Americans in January after the United States announced that it was ending nuclear-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini. In exchange, the United States sent $1.7 billion dollars to Iran and freed or dropped charges against seven Iranian nationals for attempts to smuggle arms. An Iranian general later described the $1.7 billion payout as a ransom.

In Why Does Iran Keep Taking American Hostages?, published in the September 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Iran expert Ali Alfoneh described the regime’s hostage-taking as “a perfectly normal procedure and political practice in the Islamic Republic. That has been the case since the first day of the revolution and continues until today.”

[Photo: Free Nazanin Campaign ]