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The families of two British-Iranian dual citizens who have been imprisoned in Iran without due process have delivered petitions to the British government urging it to seek their loved ones’ immediate release.

The petitions were delivered on October 24, 2016 with a letter co-signed by 117 Members of Parliament (MPs) and members of the House of Lords calling for the release of 77-year-old Kamal Foroughi, 37-year-old new mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and 50-year-old Roya Saberinejad Nobakht.

“We have very strong humanitarian and health concerns about their detentions,” said MPs Oliver Dowden and Tulip Siddiq, who co-wrote the letter addressing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. “In addition, the judicial processes used in their cases do not appear to meet international standards.”

“We know you are aware of this issue and are acting,” continued the letter. “We urge the United Kingdom to use its recently restored relations with Iran to seek the immediate release of these prisoners and return [them] to their loved ones.”

The Amnesty International-sponsored petition, which is now closed, was signed by more than 73,000 supporters and delivered to the Foreign Office. The Change petition was signed by more than 200,000 supporters and was delivered to Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street.

2000 Days in Evin Prison

In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on October 24, Kamran Foroughi said his father, Kamal Foroughi, who has been held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison on espionage charges since 2011, should be released because of his old age and medical circumstances. 

“During these years my father’s lawyer filed more than 50 requests for his release and the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office gave a verbal pledge that he would go free, but so far nothing has happened,” said Kamran Foroughi.

“His health is worrying. He was diagnosed about two months ago with cataracts in each eye and he needs an urgent operation that is very straightforward, simple and quick to do at the hospital. When he was diagnosed, the specialist said he would get the operation very soon. But he still hasn’t had the operation and we are worried that the longer that they leave it, the more his eyesight will deteriorate and the more he will be at risk for permanent blindness,” he said.

Kamran Foroughi also explained why his family had chosen to remain silent about his father’s case for four years: “We didn’t have any contact with the media until October 2015. Initially we thought it would be better to be quiet. We expected our father to go free because he hasn’t done anything. Even now that I’m talking about it, I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or not.”

Kamal Foroughi, a former civil engineer, was arrested on May 5, 2011 by the Revolutionary Guards at his apartment in Tehran and held in solitary confinement for 18 months in the Revolutionary Guard-controlled Ward 2-A of Evin Prison, according to his son. Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court eventually sentenced him to seven years in prison for “espionage” and one year in prison for “possession of alcoholic drinks at home”.

“Our understanding is that for the first year he wasn’t charged with anything,” said Kamran Foroughi. “He was just held and questioned. And then, after one year, he was charged but not told what the charges were. Then, almost nine months later, he was tried and found guilty of two charges. The first, ‘espionage’ [was handed down] with no evidence or explanation, and he has always strenuously denied that charge, and that’s a seven-year sentence. And the second charge was possessing alcohol in the home, a one-year sentence, and he has admitted to that charge.”

Kamran Foroughi added that his family has had regular telephone contact with his father since the summer of 2014, but his father has had no visitors because none of his relatives live in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a London-based project manager for the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at the Imam Khomeini Airport with her 22-month old daughter, Gabriella, on April 3, 2016 as she was trying to leave the country following a visit with her parents. She was sentenced to five years in prison on unspecified security charges in September 2016. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has led an impassioned campaign for her release and as of October 2016 a petition for her release on the Change website had more than 800,000 signatures.

Nobakht, another dual national who was visiting family in Iran at the time of her arrest, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013 for “insulting the sacred” for the content of some of her Facebook posts.

Several other dual nationals have been arrested in Iran in the past two years including Iranian-Canadian Homa Hoodfar, Iranian-American son and father Siamak and Bagher Namazi, and Iranian-American Robin (Reza) Shahini. With the exception of Hoodfar, who was released in October 2016, all of them are still being held in Iran without due process.

The Judiciary’s ongoing imprisonment of dual nationals contradicts the government of President Hassan Rouhani’s repeated calls for expatriates to return to Iran. The growing number of arrests also reflect hardliners’ efforts to prevent the engagement with the West that the Rouhani administration has sought to encourage.