By Niloufar Rostami
September 27, 2019
There are at least 14 foreign, dual national and foreign resident prisoners currently held in Evin and other Iranian prisons. The highest number of these prisoners are from the United States and Britain, followed by Austria, Australia, France and Sweden. Most of them have been charged with “working for enemy countries,” despite the fact that, according to a foreign ministry official document dated December 14, 2013, the only country that the Islamic Republic considers to be an “enemy state” is Israel.
There is no reliable and definitive information available about nationals from neighboring countries currently held in Iranian prisons.
The United States: Four Prisoners
Siamak Namazi, the Iranian-American head of strategic planning for Crescent Petroleum in the United Arab Emirates, traveled to Iran in July 2015 to visit his family. After he arrived, he was banned from leaving Iran. Following numerous summons to the intelligence ministry, he was arrested in October 2015 and was sent to solitary confinement at Evin’s Ward 209.
In October 2016, Siamak Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “cooperating with the hostile government of America.” The verdict was upheld by the appeals court. On October 16, Mizan News Agency, a website linked to Iran’s judiciary, published a short video showing Siamak Namazi’s arrest and describing it as evidence of “America’s humiliation.” Some hardliner media outlets called the arrest of Siamak Namazi, and the later arrest of his father Baquer, “Iran’s biggest intelligence catch.” The hardline paper Vatan called Siamak Namazi the “kingfish” of a “British-run” network.
Siamak Namazi is currently held at Evin Prison’s Ward 10 and since his arrest, he has been denied a leave of absence even for one day.
Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi’s father, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on the night of February 22, 2016. He was 80 years old at the time, and had been in Dubai, where he had gone for a medical check-up and to visit his grandchildren. According to IranWire sources, Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents lured Namazi to go back to Iran by promising he would be able to visit his son for the first time since he had been arrested. Like his son, Baquer Namazi was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for “cooperating with the hostile government of America.” And again, the appeals court upheld the verdict.
Baquer Namazi, now approaching his mid-80s, suffers from heart problems and underwent surgery twice during his incarceration. He was able to leave prison due to ill health in spring 2018, but he still remains a prisoner. “Because of the severity of illness, Baquer Namazi is unable to serve his prison sentence but he has to regularly report to the Prisons Organization,” Mehrdad Ghorbani-Saraei, the lawyer for both Namazis, told IranWire. “We have requested a leave of absence for Siamak Namazi but, unfortunately, he is still in prison.” He said that that in the spring of 2018 he appealed to Branch 33 of the Iranian Supreme Court to reopen the case of the Namazi father and son but he has yet to receive an answer to his appeal.
Michael White, 47, a former US Navy officer from California, has been incarcerated since July 2018 in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad and was sentenced in early 2019 to 10 years in prison on charges of “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “posting pictures on social networks.” The details and the evidence supporting these charges are still unknown.
Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for the family of this US citizen, told IranWire that, according to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in the Islamic Republic, Michael White has undergone surgery for cancer. According to Franks, White’s family are extremely worried about the conditions he is being held in and losing hope that the US and Iran will be able to come to an agreement regarding his case.
He says that Michael White is still incarcerated at Vakilabad Prison but he has no accurate information about his surgery or the date and the duration of his hospitalization. “We have no information about this,” says Franks. “We only guess that he was operated on last month. Unfortunately, our information is minimal and the officials of the Swiss government are our only sources.”
Michael White suffers from acute asthma and has a cancerous tumor in his neck. He had been receiving chemotherapy treatment before his imprisonment.
In an interview with the New York Times on January 7, 2019, Joanne White, Michael White’s mother, said that he had been set to return from Iran via Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on July 27, 2018 but he never boarded his flight. She added that her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman she said was his girlfriend. How they met is unclear. US State Department officials had informed her three weeks before the interview that her son was in an Iranian prison.
Two days after Joanne White’s interview, Bahram Ghasemi, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed that an American citizen was being held in Vakilabad Prison but dismissed reports of him being mistreated as “lies” and as part of a campaign of “psychological warfare” against Iran. He said the arrest of Michael White had been reported early on to the US Interests Section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran and that the American government had been aware of the arrest from the beginning.
On March 11, Mashhad’s prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi announced that the court had issued a verdict in White’s case. He claimed to have no knowledge about the “details of the case” but that it involved charges linked to national security issues.
During an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Sadeghi said that “both private and public plaintiffs” had brought a complaint against Michael White, contradicting comments he gave to Mehr News Agency on January 5, in which he stated that White’s arrest and continued imprisonment was linked to “a private complaint” only. “We were told that that Mashhad’s prosecutor has banned communication with Michael, whether through phone or through mail, but we have no idea why this decision has been made,” said Jonathan Franks.
Franks says that the family’s only request is proper medical care for Michael. “His medical treatment has been better than the usual standards of an Iranian prison but we want him to have comprehensive medical care,” he says.
“Michael voted for Donald Trump but, unfortunately, his administration has ignored his situation,” says Franks. “Michael’s situation has nothing to do with the relations between the two countries. He has committed no crime and his being taken as a hostage in Iran is an illegal and inhuman act. We only know that the two countries have not talked much about his release and we want the Trump administration to work harder to secure his release. Otherwise, it would take a miracle for Michael to be released and to return to his family.”
According to him, White is in touch with his family through phone but the conversations have not occurred on a regular basis.
Xiyue Wang, 38, a Chinese-American and a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Princeton University, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage and is now serving time at Ward 12 at Evin Prison.
Wang is fluent in Persian and had traveled to Iran to conduct research for his doctoral thesis on the Qajar dynasty when he was arrested on August 8, 2016, although his arrest was not revealed by either Iranian or American officials until July 16, 2017. At that time, the Iranian judiciary spokesman, without naming Wang, announced that a Revolutionary Court had sentenced an individual to 10 years in prison. The spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, accused the prisoner of being an “US tool of infiltration who holds double nationality and was controlled directly by Americans.” He said he had been arrested intelligence ministry agents.
The sentence was upheld by the appeals court shortly thereafter.
On the same day, the judiciary-affiliated Mizan News Agency revealed his name, calling him a spy who had “digitized 4,500 pages of information about Iran” by going through the “archives of Tehran’s libraries” and gathering information from “scientific figures.” Judiciary officials never explained how the use of archives in public libraries — accessible to anybody — could be construed as “espionage.”
In a statement sent out to media outlets and international human rights and advocacy groups after it was revealed that Wang was being held a prisoner, his wife Hua Qu called on the United States government to take “concrete action” to free her husband, whom she described as a “hostage” who had endured “cruel” treatment, including repeated interrogations and being held in solitary confinement. She also said his health was “rapidly deteriorating.”
At the same time, she appealed for greater media coverage on her husband’s case.
Hua Qu denied her husband was a spy, instead insisting that he is “a historian who loves Persian culture.” Xiyue Wang also spent time in Afghanistan in 2010, where he served as a Pashtun (Persian) interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“His unlawful arrest, his prolonged detention in spite of having a valid visa and research permit, and his sentencing to a 10-year jail term all represent a miscarriage of justice and an assault on academic freedom,” Hua Qu said. “I cannot believe very soon my husband will have served in Evin Prison double the time served by the diplomats in the first hostage crisis in 1979.”
Through several statements, Princeton University has appealed for the release of Xiyue Wang, denying he had engaged in any illegal activity. He was in Iran “solely for the purpose of studying Farsi and conducting archival research for his Ph.D dissertation on late 19th- and early 20th-century Eurasian history,” a statement read. “Xiyue’s friends and colleagues at Princeton feel an even greater sense of urgency and injustice because we know him as a devoted scholar, husband, parent and friend. Many of the graduate students who entered Princeton with him completed their degrees this year; it is well past time for him to be permitted to return to his studies and complete his degree. With each passing day his son is deprived of the guidance and affection of a loving father who went to Iran solely for the purpose of completing a dissertation on the history of an important, and not always well-understood, region of the world.”
Australia: Three Prisoners
Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, was arrested in September of 2018, and put into solitary confinement at Evin Prison’s Ward 2A, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. She was interrogated without the presence of a lawyer. She has been reportedly tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The charges have not been made publicl, but it is believed they relate to espionage. She has had limited consular access from Australian officials, and no contact with her family or friends.
Her family had remained silent about her arrest until recently. “We believe that the best chance of securing Kylie’s safe return is through diplomatic channels,” the family said in a statement issued through the Australian government.
According to the newspaper the Guardian, Moore-Gilbert’s research has drawn her into areas that could be perceived as sensitive — particularly by an Iranian regime under acute pressure from economic sanctions and deeply suspicious of foreign academics and journalists. She has written extensively about revolutions and activism in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Shia Islam, and Bahraini politics and its protest movements.
Most recently, Moore-Gilbert has published articles in journals and contributed chapters to books on Bahrain’s “February 14” pro-democracy youth movement and online opposition activism during Bahrain’s crackdown following the so-called Arab Spring. At the time of her arrest, she had received a grant to analyze “Iran’s relationship with Bahrain’s Shia after the Arab uprisings.” The grant was part of the University of Melbourne’s early career researcher grants scheme.
Mark Firkin and Jolie King
Mark Firkin and Jolie King were blogging about their travels in Asia and the Middle East when Iranian security forces arrested them, news of which only emerged in September 2019, many weeks after they had been arrested. Reportedly, they are now being held in the communal ward of Evin Prison.
According to the BBC, Jolie King — who has dual UK and Australian nationality — and Mark Firkin, an Australian citizen, were reported to have been travelling on Australian passports. In 2017, the couple left Western Australia to embark on a major trip driving across Asia to the UK. They were documenting their adventures on Instagram and YouTube, and had more than 20,000 followers.
Few details of the circumstances of their arrest or the charges against them have been made public, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said they had reportedly been flying a drone without a permit.
The United Kingdom: Four Prisoners
Anousheh Ashouri, 65, a retired British-Iranian businessman, has been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for spying for Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth.” He is currently serving time at Ward 7 at Evin Prison.
Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili first revealed that Anousheh Ashouri was in prison on August 27, 2019, announcing that He Ashouri had been sentenced to 12 years in prison because of his ties with Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Ashouri’s sentence included 10 years for allegedly feeding information to Israeli intelligence and two years for receiving €33,000 (US$36,000) in illicit funds from Israel. He was ordered to pay the same amount in fines. Gholamhossein Esmaili provided no details or evidence to support the charges.
Ashouri’s family told the UK newspaper 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 while 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 allowed to see a lawyer and that she has no way of finding out on what evidence he has been sentenced.
For two years, Ashouri’s family remained silent about his arrest, as were both the Iranian and British governments, for unknown reasons — though it is 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 and Commonwealth 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,” a foreign office statement said. “We urge Iran to let them be reunited with their families.”
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national and charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by the intelligence agents of the Revolutionary Guards on April 3, 2016 at the airport as she and her baby daughter were leaving Iran. She was sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of espionage in September 2016. The Revolutionary Court of Appeals later upheld the sentence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has served enough time to qualify for an early release, but this request has not been granted. Since her arrest, her daughter Gabriella has lived with her grandparents in Tehran; until recently, Zaghari-Ratcliffe met with her daughter on a weekly basis, although they are separated by a glass partition. Over the last three years, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has gone on hunger strike twice to protest against being denied medical care and authorities’ refusal to grant her freedom. Her husband Richard joined her on her second hunger strike, protesting outside the Iranian Embassy in London in summer 2019.
On July 21, 2018, an Iranian judge announced that Iranian-British prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will not be released until the United Kingdom settles a long-standing debt with Iran. The debt refers to Iran’s 1976 purchase of Chieftain tanks from the UK, an arms deal between the Shah and the UK in which Iran reportedly paid the UK £650 million (US$810 million). Although some of the tanks were delivered, not all of them had arrived in the country by the time the 1979 Islamic Revolution took place. A debt of £450 million ($560 million) remains, and Iranian authorities have increasingly used Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a bargaining chip to secure its settlement.
According to the Free Nazanin Campaign, the judge told Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe that authorities — she assumes the Revolutionary Guards — are convinced she will try to flee the country if she is granted a period of leave from prison. As a result, he said, she could not be released on humanitarian or any other grounds.
After the judge spoke, however, the Iranian government denied that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held as leverage to make the UK pay its debt to Iran.
Aras Amiri, a 32-year-old student of aesthetics and art theory at London’s Kingston University and an employee of the British Council, is a permanent resident of the UK. On March 14, 2018, she was arrested by intelligence ministry agents when she was visiting her ailing grandmother in Iran. She was taken to Ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, known for housing political prisoners. She was charged with the familiar and vaguely-defined charge of “collusion against national security” and was released on bail.
Aras Amiri was rearrested on September 7, 2018, after she rejected an offer to spy for the intelligence ministry. “Before she was arrested, the intelligence ministry summoned her and asked her to give them information about the activities of the British Council,” Amiri’s cousin Mohsen Omrani told IranWire. “They told her that she would get paid for her cooperation but Aras told them that she did not have access to any information and could not work with them. Aras was summoned a few times more and pressured with threats and promises. Each time she rejected their offer and eventually they stayed true to their threats by arresting Aras and indicting her on trumped-up charges.”
Originally Mohsen Omrani had tweeted that Aras Amiri had at first been charged with conspiracy against national security but after the second arrest the charge was changed to membership to an illegal organization. Later the judiciary spokesman stated that the charge against her was espionage. “Neither during the investigation, nor in the indictment and not even during the trial was there was any mention of espionage. The judiciary spokesman is making it up,” Omrani told IranWire.
On May 13, 2019, Gholamhossein Esmaili, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, announced on state television that a woman with links to Britain had been sentenced to 10 years in prison after confessing to espionage. Although he declined to give her name, media reports identified the woman as Aras Amiri.
Amiri appealed directly to Iran’s Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi but her plea was ignored and the appeals court upheld the verdict.
Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian anthropologist, was arrested on August 11, 2019. The charges against him are still unknown. His wife Shafagh Rahmani told IranWire that she had been allowed to meet her husband on September 8, for 50 minutes at Evin Courthouse. Security agents were present in the room during their meeting so Ahmady was not able to talk freely about his situation or the charges brought against him.
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. He has expressed his opposition to child marriage and concubinage and referred to common law marriage on his Instagram page. In recent years, Ahmady has written and published books on common law marriage, the LGBT community in Iran, female genital mutilation and child marriage.
According to his wife, Ahmady became a British national about 25 years ago but he has been living in Iran except “for short visits to London for the last 15 years.” The couple have a three-year-old son.
Ahmady told authorities that all his writing had been published with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Ahmady is the recipient of the 2017 Truth Honour Award presented by the London Law University and the Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. In 2018 he also received an award from George Washington University for his books and articles on sexuality, children and ethnic minorities.
Sweden: One Prisoner
Ahmad Reza Jalali
Ahmad Reza Jalali, an Iranian citizen with permanent residency in Sweden, is a physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief, and teaches at Vrije University Brussel (VUB) in Belgium. He was sentenced to death in October 2017 on the charge of espionage for Israel and was found guilty of conspiring with Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
Dr. Jalali has repeatedly denied the charges and has said that he had been forced to confess under torture but his death penalty was upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court shortly after.
He was arrested on April 24, 2016, just three days before he was to return home after visiting Iran at the invitation of Tehran University. His family were left uninformed about his whereabouts for a week after his arrest, until he was finally allowed to telephone them.
Seventeen months after his arrest, Dr. Jalali appeared in court for the first time on August 23, 2017. He was brought before the revolutionary court judge Abolghasem Salavati, who is listed on the European Union’s sanctions list for violations of human rights. According to his wife Vida Mehran-Nia, he told the court: “I retract whatever I have signed because I signed under severe mental duress and because they threatened the life of my family. I do not accept any of the charges.” The court disregarded his defense and sentenced him to death.
Shortly after his arrest, Jalali fell ill. In April 2018, a photograph of him looking extremely underweight was shared on social media and published by news and human rights websites. He and his family continued to request he receive medical attention, appeals that were ignored until November 18, 2018, when his condition became critical and he was rushed to Tehran’s Taleghani hospital for surgery to treat a hernia. However, he was sent back to prison the next day before his stitches had properly healed, leaving him in need of further surgery.
In August 2019, it was reported that he had been blindfolded and transferred from Evin Prison to an unknown location, where he is facing fresh interrogations. His family in Tehran were not given any information about who ordered the transfer, why he had been moved from Evin, or under what conditions he is being held.
Jalali’s mother, Najibeh Mortazavi, who is ill and disabled, told IranWire during a short phone conversation that her son said authorities had taken him by car to a “faraway” location. “We have no idea why,” she said. “Nobody tells us anything. Ahmad Reza is allowed to make phone calls but the calls are short and he cannot speak freely. When I asked him why they had moved him to another location, he said that it was probably something new, meaning that maybe they have opened a new case against him and he is being interrogated again. I am very worried.”
“My husband told me on the phone that he had been under heavy pressure to submit to a forced confession,” his wife told Radio Farda on August 3. She said intelligence agents demanded he admit he was guilty of the new accusations or “be prepared for the execution of death penalty issued against him.”
Austria: One Prisoner
Kamran Ghaderi, an Iranian-Austrian dual national, was arrested on January 2, 2016 upon arrival in Tehran, where he had planned to attend an official Austrian-Iranian trade meeting along with senior Austrian officials. He was taken Ward 209 at Evin Prison.
Ghaderi holds a PhD in electronics and is the CEO of Avanoc, an Austrian IT management and consulting company that has worked in Iran for many years. Ghaderi had been living with his wife and three children in Vienna at the time of his arrest.
Ghaderi was kept in solitary confinement for 472 days and was then transferred to Ward 7 at Evin Prison. On October 18, 2016, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced that Ghaderi was among six individuals who had received a 10-year prison sentence each for spying and working with the “hostile government” of the USA. His sentence was upheld by the court of appeals.
Before his arrest, Kamran Ghaderi had visited Iran many times to participate in scientific seminars and trade deals and had never encountered any problems.
In December 2018, a source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) Ghaderi had not been able to receive treatment for a tumor in his leg. The source, who asked not to be identified, said an MRI taken in September 2017 showed Ghaderi had a tumor in the bone of his left leg, but since the test nothing further had been done to further diagnose or treat the tumor, which the source said was causing Ghaderi pain. In addition, Ghaderi underwent an operation for disc pain in his back in February 2018, but did not receive any physical therapy after the procedure.
“He has had two operations in which doctors removed intervertebral discs and inserted a 30cm-long plate on his spinal column,” said the source. “Since then he can bend only 10 degrees.”
Since his arrest, Kamran Ghaderi’s wife and three children, who live in Austria, have not been able to see him.
France: One Prisoner
Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian dual national academic and social science researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), was arrested in June 2019 by Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents and charged with espionage. She had arrived in Iran for a research project a few months prior to her arrest. News of her arrest only emerged in mid-July.
Adelkhah’s research focused on Iran and its neighboring countries. She had also spent time researching in some of these countries, including Afghanistan.
Sources told IranWire that the academic, who holds dual Iranian-French nationality, had spent a period of time in Qom along with a French student. In recent years Adelkhah had been conducting research on Qom seminaries and, in cooperation with research centers, had arranged for Qom clerics to travel to Paris to attend seminars on several occasions. The sources said her arrest, which was confirmed by human science scholars in Paris, was unexpected. She is thought to have been under interrogation since her arrest. At the time of reporting, there was no information about the French student who had apparently accompanied Adelkhah.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei confirmed the arrest, but stated that he didn’t know who had carried it out. Such remarks usually indicate that the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit is responsible. The unit is answerable only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is at times at odds with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.
IranWire was told that French officials and the French embassy in Tehran have been informed of her arrest, and are following up on her situation. Nothing is known about the specific of charges against her.
Reuters news agency was the first to report Adelkhah’s arrest. Following this, French President Emmanuel Macron demanded an explanation from Iran. “What’s happened worries me a lot. We were informed for several days and I had the opportunity to express not only my disagreement but my desire to have clarifications from President (Hassan) Rouhani,” Macron told a news conference
“The French authorities in this difficult context have taken steps with Iranian authorities to get information from them on her situation and the conditions of her arrest and asked for consular access as is foreseen in these circumstances, a necessary precursor for her quick release,” French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement. “No satisfactory response has been given to these requests.”
In July, Adelkhah was allowed to meet with French consulate officials in Iran and see her family.
Fariba Adelkhah’s studies as a research director at Sciences Po are published on the university’s website. Professors and academics at various universities both inside and outside Iran have cited her work, which covers “social anthropology and political anthropology of post-revolutionary Iran — family, business, youth and women, anthropology of travel, migration, smuggling, exile — and anthropology of transnational religious and merchant networks in Iran and Afghanistan.” She has written and translated several books on anthropology, the clergy and the clergy’s relationship with politics.
French officials have reportedly appealed to the Iranian-French academic community to not speak out to the media about the arrest so that negotiations between the two countries can progress. The French media has not reported on the negotiations or on Adelkhah’s case.
But on September 5, the rightwing French paper Le Figaro published news analysis of the reasons behind Fariba Adelkhah’s arrest [French link]. According to one theory cited by the report, the Islamic Republic wants to exchange Adelkhah for Jalal Rohollahnejad, an Iranian engineer who was arrested at Nice airport in February. In May, a French court approved the extradition of Rohollahnejad to the United States to face charges of attempting to illegally import US technology for military purposes on behalf of an Iranian company. If the French government approves and carries out the extradition, he faces up to 60 years in prison.