Who Are the Dual Nationals Imprisoned in Iran?
At least 13 dual and foreign nationals, as well as foreign permanent residents, are currently imprisoned in Iran. According to research by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), the arrests are followed by a pattern of prolonged solitary confinement and interrogations; lack of due process; denial of consular access or visits by the UN or humanitarian organizations; secretive trials in which the detainee is given limited access to counsel; and long prison sentences based on vague or unspecified “national security” and “espionage” charges. In November 2017, Reuters reported that at least 30 dual nationals had been arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) since the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015.
Dual nationals have been used as bargaining chips in Iran’s dealings with other nations. The Iranian Judiciary’s ongoing imprisonment of these visitors or residents of Iran—arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization or the Intelligence Ministry—also reflects hardliners’ efforts to prevent Iran’s engagement with the West.
No Iranian official has ever been held accountable for the deaths of some of these detainees in state custody. Iranian judicial officials, including hardline judges, have also never been held accountable for their collusion with the arresting authorities, which often influence or dictate prison sentences.
In February 2018, prominent academic and environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami, who had Canadian citizenship, died under suspicious circumstances in Evin Prison after being arrested a month earlier with several other environmentalists.
In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died after being beaten by her interrogator in Evin Prison.
Iranian-American dual national Siamak Namazi was the head of an oil and gas company based in the United Arab Emirates when the Revolutionary Guards arrested him in Tehran in October 2015. In October 2016, he and his then 80-year-old Iranian-American father were sentenced to 10 years in prison for “collaborating with enemy states” after a trial in which they were denied due process. An appeals court upheld the sentence in August 2017.
Iranian-American dual national Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF representative, was arrested in Tehran in February 2016 after travelling to Iran to gain his son’s release. He was 80-years-old at the time. In October 2016, he and his Iranian-American son Siamak Namazi were sentenced to 10 years in prison for “collaborating with enemy states” after a trial in which they were both denied due process. Baquer Namazi underwent heart surgery in September 2017 to receive a pacemaker.
A member of the minority Zoroastrian faith, Iranian-American dual national Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Vafadari, an Iranian architect, were managing the Aun Gallery in Tehran when they were arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization on July 20, 2016—ostensibly for serving alcohol in their home and hosting mixed-gender parties.
In March 2017, new charges were brought against the couple, based on claims by the IRGC that they had attempted to overthrow the Islamic Republic and recruit spies through foreign embassies. So far no trial has been held, but the couple could face up to 21 years in prison, as well as cash fines, and confiscation of their house and other properties.
Iranian-American businessman Morad Tahbaz was detained with at least nine environmentalists from the Iranian wildlife charity, the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF), in January 2018 on alleged espionage charges. One of those detainees, Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami, died under suspicious circumstances in custody in February. Tahbaz, who reportedly also holds a British passport, was a board member of the PHWF. The exact charges against him remain unclear.
Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University PhD student, was conducting research in Tehran’s archive centers for his thesis when he was arrested in August 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017. An Appeals Court upheld the sentence in August 2017.
Judicial officials have remained mostly silent on Wang’s case, but the official news agency of the judiciary, Mizan, printed an article in July 2017 describing Wang as a “spy disguised as a researcher” who “digitally recorded 4,500 pages of official documents” from libraries in Tehran and Iranian academics.
The most mysterious case is that of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was reportedly working on an unofficial CIA mission when he went missing in 2007 after traveling to Iran’s Kish Island. It is not known whether he is alive or dead. Iranian officials have insisted that they have no knowledge about his whereabouts, but Levinson’s family and some US officials believe the Iranian government is aware of his location.
Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by the IRGC in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport while she was on her way back home to London after visiting her parents. Her 22-month-old daughter, who was with her at the time, was placed in the custody of her grandparents in Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 on unspecified “national security charges.” She is currently being held in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison and has been diagnosed with advanced depression. In October 2017, one month before she became eligible for early release, she was threatened with 16 more years in prison based on new charges brought by the IRGC.
Iranian-British dual national Kamal Foroughi was working as a consultant for an oil and gas company when he was arrested on May 5, 2011, by the IRGC and sentenced to seven years in prison for “espionage” and one year for “possession of alcoholic drinks at home.” The latter sentence was eventually dropped. He is currently eligible for release.
Kamran Ghaderi was the CEO of an Austrian IT management and consulting company when agents of the Intelligence Ministry arrested him upon his arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on January 2, 2016. He was on a routine business trip and had previously traveled to Iran on many occasions for work and business seminars, including as a member of the Austrian delegation to Tehran led by then-President Heinz Fischer in October 2015.
The prosecution used a coerced confession by Ghaderi to gain a 10-year prison sentence against him in the Revolutionary Court where he was tried for the charge of “conducting espionage for enemy states.” The Appeals Court later upheld the sentence.
Sabri Hassanpour, an Iranian-born citizen of the Netherlands, has been imprisoned in Iran since being arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization in April 2016 in the southern city of Khorramshahr while he was visiting his relatives.
Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court put him on trial in late November 2016 for “propaganda against the state and acting against national security.” There is no news available about whether he was sentenced.
An Appeals Court upheld a five-year prison sentence issued against Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, an Iranian-Canadian dual national, on October 8, 2017. The initial sentence, issued against Esfahani by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in May 2017, was for espionage charges including “collaborating with the British secret service.” Esfahani represented the Central Bank of Iran during the talks on the country’s nuclear program between Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1. After the final deal was struck in July 2015, he advised the Rouhani government on implementing the deal’s financial provisions
Citizenship: Lebanese with US permanent residency
Information technology expert Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-born US permanent resident based in Washington, DC, has been imprisoned in Iran since September 2015. He was arrested in Tehran in September 2015 despite being officially invited by the Rouhani government to attend a conference on women and sustainable development.
In August 2017, Iran’s Appeals Court upheld a 10-year prison sentence and $4.2 million fine against Zakka for unspecified espionage charges.
Citizenship: Iran with Swedish permanent residency
Ahmadreza Jalali is an Iranian-born Swedish resident and expert in emergency disaster medicine who has been detained in Evin Prison since he was arrested on April 24, 2016, by Intelligence Ministry agents. In October 2017 he was sentenced to death for espionage charges based on a forced confession. In a letter from the prison, Djalali wrote that he was imprisoned during a trip to Iran for refusing to spy for the Intelligence Ministry. He has appealed his sentence.
Citizenship: Iran with Canadian permanent residency
Saeed Malekpour was a computer programmer and web developer living as a permanent resident in Canada before the Revolutionary Guards arrested while he was visiting Iran in 2008. He was charged with “insulting the sacred” for allegedly creating an online pornographic network. In September 2010, a Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death, but the sentence was ultimately commuted from death to life imprisonment in August 2013.