Iran: 5-Year Sentence for Dual National on Dubious Charges

HRW - Human Rights Watch - 9/15/2016 10:05:00 AM

Internal Politics Behind Intensified Crackdown

An Iranian court has sentenced an Iranian-British dual national to five years in prison on national security charges. The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe told Human Rights Watch that Branch 15 of Tehran's Revolutionary Court sentenced her on September 6, 2016. She is one of a half-dozen Iranian dual nationals who have been arrested and prosecuted on vaguely defined national security charges in the past two years.

Ratcliffe works for the media development team at the Thomson Reuters Charity Foundation and lives with her husband and daughter in West Hampstead, United Kingdom. Iranian authorities arrested her on April 3, at the Tehran airport, when she arrived to visit family for the Iranian New Year, and detained her in Evin Prison. Authorities also confiscated her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella's passport, effectively barring her from returning to the UK. Ratcliffe's trial took place on August 14. She had access to a lawyer only three days before her trial, nearly three months after the Kerman Revolutionary Guard completed their interrogation.

"Ratcliffe's conviction and sentencing on unclear charges without any semblance of a fair trial is what amounts to 'justice' in Iran's notorious revolutionary courts," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. "The authorities should immediately release Ratcliffe and other detained dual-nationals who have not been charged with a credible offense."

On August 7, Mizan, the Iranian judiciary's news agency, alleged that Ratcliffe was an "agent" for the Thomson Reuters Foundation - whose charitable work, Mizan said, was a cover for "spying and intelligence operations for Western governments," and part of "an infiltration project," a term hard-liners in the government regularly level against dual nationals who have been detained or imprisoned. Thomson Reuters Foundation rejected these allegations, calling them a "blatant attempt to seek to justify the imprisonment of British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe."

In the past two years, intelligence authorities, especially the Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence unit, have arrested several dual nationals in Iran. In October 2015, Iranian authorities convicted the Washington Post correspondent in Iran, Jason Rezaian, and sentenced him to a prison term that was not revealed even to him and his lawyer. He was released in January 2016 as part of a prisoner swap between Iran and the United States after spending 18 months in a section of Evin Prison controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

In the latest case, on July 11, Revolutionary Guard authorities in the city of Gorgan, in northern Iran, arrested and detained Robin Shahini, a dual Iranian-American citizen who had traveled to Iran to visit his family. On August 16, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that Shahini was formally charged with "acting against national security," "participating in protest gatherings in 2009," "collaborating with Voice of America (VOA) television," and "insulting 'the sacred' on Facebook," but that his lawyer had not been allowed to see the evidence against him.

On June 6, following three months of interrogations, authorities in Tehran arrested Homa Hoodfar, a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. In early March, Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents raided Professor Hoodfar's home shortly before she was to leave the country, confiscating personal belongings, including her passports, research documents, and computer. The Hoodfar family said in a press release that Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court tried to dismiss the lawyer Hoodfar had chosen. On August 30, the family announced that Hoodfar had been hospitalized due to her rapidly declining health.

On October 15, 2015, Iranian authorities arrested Siamak Namazi, a dual Iranian-American citizen and the head of strategic planning at the Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum, while he was visiting his family in Tehran. On February 22, authorities arrested his father, 80-year-old Bagher Namazi, a former UNICEF representative in several countries. Both remain in detention on unclear charges.

In 2011, authorities arrested Kamal Foroughi, a British-Iranian businessman, and sentenced him to eight years in prison on charges of espionage and one year in prison for alcohol possession. His son Kamran Foroughi told Human Rights Watch that his 77-year-old father has just been diagnosed with cataracts and desperately needs an operation to avoid going blind. He was eligible for early release two years ago and has not seen his wife and family for more than five years.

Hard-liner factions in Iran have repeatedly warned about what they believe is a project led by the West to "infiltrate" the country and its core values. In the past two years, authorities have arrested several Iranian dual nationals accusing them of facilitating the "infiltration project." Authorities have also prosecuted several journalists, accusing them of being part of an "infiltration network" but have yet to offer any evidence supporting these allegations.

"The jump in prosecutions of Iranian dual nationals appears to reflect efforts by government hard-liners to keep Iran isolated from the global community," Whitson said. "Individuals should not have to suffer unjust prison terms because of a country's internal politics."