British-Iranian dual nationals currently jailed in Iran, (L-R), Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Kameel Ahmady and Anousheh Ashouri. (IranWire)

By Niloufar Rostami

August 31, 2019

Iran’s judiciary has claimed that dual nationals currently jailed in the Islamic Republic are connected to “terrorism” and had been supported by foreign intelligence agencies [Persian link].

Speaking at a press conference on August 27, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmaili indirectly defended arrests carried out by the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization, mentioning just one of the jailed Iranian-British dual nationals by name. He also mentioned Aras Amiri, an Iranian citizen who had been living in Britain prior to her arrest, and Ali Johari, an Iranian who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying for Israel and two years for “illegitimate gains” by accepting money from Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of at least four Iranian-British citizens currently held in Evin Prison. A charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she was arrested on April 3, 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016.

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian social anthropologist, was arrested on August 11, 2019 and taken to Evin Prison. As of now, the charges against him are unknown.

Anousheh Ashouri, a British-Iranian retired businessman, has been sentenced to 10 years for spying for Mossad, and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth.” He was one of the prisoners Gholam Hossein Esmaili mentioned by name during the press conference.

Aras Amiri is a 33-year-old Iranian national, a student, a permanent resident of the UK and an employee of the British Council, a British organization specializing in international cultural and educational opportunities. She was arrested on March 14, 2018 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison after confessing to espionage under pressure.

Amiri’s was the first case Esmaili cited in his press conference. “A month ago, not in a formal press conference but in an [informal talk], I talked about individuals affiliated to the UK,” he said. “Since the verdict at that time was not yet final I did not mention the person’s name or specifics but — like the [Persian] expression says, if you just pick up the stick, the thieving cat knows that it must escape — relatives of this person understood whom I was talking about.” Although he had refrained from naming her before, he mentioned Amiri by name during the August 27 press conference.

Funny but not Accurate

“In my view, we would have much fewer problems if Mr. Spokesman was as accurate in judicial matters as he is funny and witty,” Aras Amiri’s cousin Mohsen Omrani, who lives in the US, told IranWire. “First, there is no charge of ‘espionage’ in the indictment against Aras. She has been charged with creating and running an illegal group, which itself is also unfounded. Aras was an ordinary employee of the British Council and was not a manager. She has pointed this out many times herself. At the same time, her family and her lawyers have repeatedly asked the court to announce the name of the group that the judiciary claims has been created or controlled by Aras, but the court has offered no such evidence because this group does not exist.”

In July, Aras Amiri wrote a letter to Ebrahim Raeesi, the Chief Justice of the Islamic Republic, calling for him to honor her human rights, describing how she has been unlawfully treated and stating that she and her family have both endured insults from Iranian authorities while she has been under arrest. She wrote that after being interrogated and posting bail, her interrogators contacted her and asked her to work for them. “I rejected their explicit offer to work with them and told them that I can only do an official job in my own specialized field and nothing else,” she wrote.

Amiri concluded her letter by asking Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi to take action to ensure her rights are restored and justice is carried out. As of now, she has received no answer from Ebrahim Raeesi regarding her letter.

What is Iran up to?

“It is not clear what is going on in Iran and how many more are going to be arrested in this way by the Iranian government,” said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe in reaction to statements by the judiciary spokesman. He said he was scheduled to meet with Dominic Raab, the new British Foreign Secretary, on Monday, September 2 to talk with him about his wife and other imprisoned dual nationals in Iran. “A committed government,” he said, “would not abandon its ordinary citizens as state hostages to defend themselves without any support.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual Iranian-UK national, was due to fly home from visiting family in Iran when Revolutionary Guards arrested her at the airport on April 3, 2016. Her daughter Gabriella, who was two years old at the time and who holds a UK passport, was with her, and is now staying with her family in Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held for some time at an unknown location in Kerman and was then transferred to Ward 2A of Evin Prison, run by the Revolutionary Guards. According to the Free Nazanin campaign, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was forced to confess while wearing a hood. She was kept in solitary confinement, which is illegal under Iranian law. She was then transferred to Evin Prison’s women’s ward, where she has been held since.

On September 6, 2016, a revolutionary court sentenced Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to five years in prison on the charge of espionage; the appeals court upheld the verdict.

Where is Kameel Ahmady?

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian social anthropologist, was arrested on Sunday, August 11, 2109 and taken to Evin Prison. His wife, Shafagh Rahmani, told IranWire she still had no news about what ward he is incarcerated in at Evin, what authority had arrested him or what charges he faces. According to Rahmani, Ahmady’s arrest warrant was issued by Branch 1 of Evin Courthouse, which is also reviewing his case.

She told IranWire that Ahmady became a British national about 25 years ago but he had been living in Iran except “for short visits to London for the last 15 years.” The couple have a three-year-old son.

Since August 11, Rahmani says, she has gone to Evin Courthouse repeatedly to inquire about her husband and his health but, so far, her requests to meet him in person or for a doctor to examine him have been rejected. “The examining magistrate said the assistant prosecutor must agree with the meeting,” she says. “However, the assistant prosecutor said that he has no problem with the meeting but it is the examining magistrate that must agree with it. In short, I have yet to meet my husband. On Tuesday, August 27, I asked the examining magistrate of Branch 1 to agree for my husband to be examined by a doctor that they trust and to give me the results, but I have yet to receive an answer to my request.”

“During all this time,” says Ahmady’s wife, “he has called home only three times and has spoken with me and our little son. Of course, since he was calling in the presence of the examining magistrate, he could not speak freely, but he sounded good.” She says that on August 28 the examining magistrate at Evin Court’s Branch 1 rejected their choice of lawyers and told her that Ahmady can only choose from the list of lawyers approved by the judiciary.

The couple’s son, Alan have a three-year-son by the name of Alan and Rahmani told IranWire that, Alan, their son, is restless. “We have told him that Papa Kameel is traveling but whenever he hears a noise from behind the door he thinks it is his father and rushes to the door. I am worried not only about my husband but also about the psychological condition of my child.”

During the week of August 26, while Kameel Ahmady was under interrogation at Evin Prison on unknown charges, his latest book, The Story of Forbidden City — which examines the situation of the LGBT community in Iran — was published in Persian by Mehri Publishers based in London.

Kameel Ahmady was born in the Kurdish city of Mahabad in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan. He studied publishing and economics and holds a BA from the University of London and an MA in Social Anthropology and Visual Anthropology from the University of Kent in Canterbury. Ahmady is the recipient of the 2017 Truth Honour Award presented by the London Law University and the Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization. In 2018 he also received an award from George Washington University for his books and articles on sexuality, children and ethnic minorities.

Breaking Silence after Two Years

During his press conference, the judiciary spokesman announced the name of another British-Iranian man, Anousheh Ashouri, a 65-year-old retired London-based businessman whose arrest had not been reported by the media until then. Esmaili claimed that Ashouri worked for Israel’s Mossad and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He has also been sentenced to another two years in prison for “illicitly acquiring money” and was fined $36,600. Esmaili, however, did not provide any details about the charges.

Ashouri’s family told The Times that he had been arrested in August 2017 and was sentenced several months before Esmaili went public with the news. His daughter, Elika, an actress who lives in London, said the family was surprised that the authorities in Tehran had announced his sentence.

According to her, Ashouri had been traveling between Iran and the UK since he was 17 but he was arrested in 2017 when he was visiting his mother in Iran. “My father had nothing to do with politics and always told us not to engage in politics,” said Elika. “He is a peaceful man. He was thinking of going on cruises during his retirement. We do not know why such a charge against him has been announced. This is a chess game and they have decided to move the pieces.”

She said that her father has not been able to see a lawyer and that she has no way of finding out on what evidence he has been sentenced.

Ashouri’s family was silent for two years about his arrest, as were both the Iranian and British governments, for unknown reasons — though perhaps because the Iranian government advised the family that the case would be dealt with quickly if it did not go public. After the announcement, a British Foreign Office spokesperson said the UK was supporting Ashouri’s family and the embassy in Tehran was continuing to request consular access. “The treatment of all dual nationals detained in Iran is a priority and we raise their cases at the most senior levels,” said a statement by the Foreign Office. “We urge Iran to let them be reunited with their families.”

As an article published in the Guardian states, the verdicts were handed down amid tensions between Iran and Britain over the seizure of oil tankers in recent weeks. An Iranian tanker was seized off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of shipping oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. That vessel has been released but Iran continues to hold a British-flagged tanker it seized in the Gulf on July 19 for breaking “international maritime rules.”

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.