Several Iranians who also hold American, British, or Canadian citizenship or residency are now imprisoned in Iran. Several were picked up after the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap for five Americans or dual nationals in January 2016. Some have been accused of undermining national security or spreading propaganda against the state. Foreign nationals, including Americans, with no Iranian background have also been detained. As of January 2021, at least four Americans, including dual nationals, remained in Iranian custody.
President Hassan Rouhani discussed detainees in a September 2017 interview with CNN. He emphasized that the judiciary is independent and that his administration cannot interfere. But Rouhani seemed to imply that he has his own opinions. “I do have my own sensitivities vis a vis this issue,” he told Christiane Amanpour. Hardliners dominate the judiciary, intelligence agencies and security services. President Hassan Rouhani has had limited impact on human rights issues since taking office.
The United States has pushed for the release of American detainees in Iran. In his September 2017 address to the United Nations, President Trump raised the issue of detainees. "It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained," he said. On Nov. 1, 2017, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of American prisoners. “For years the Iranian regime has brutally detained and imprisoned Americans and dual-nationals as a matter of policy, in an effort to leverage the freedom of our citizens for political concessions,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said.
From 2015 to 2017, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested at least 30 dual nationals, 19 of whom had citizenship in Europe, according to a Reuters investigation. Western governments are limited in their ability to help their citizens because the Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship. Dual U.S.-Iranian citizens are in a particularly difficult situation. The Swiss government serves as a protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran through its embassy. But the Iranian government will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals.
On April 24, 2019, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif publicly offered to exchange detainees with the United States. “We informed the government of the United States six months ago that we are ready,” he said at the Asia Society in New York. “Not a response yet. If they tell you anything else, they're lying.” Zarif alleged that Iranians have been detained in the United States, Europe and Australia for violating sanctions, some on extradition warrants. Zarif played a key role in arranging an exchange of American and Iranian detainees that coincided with the implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016.
Iranian officials have repeatedly expressed their readiness to exchange detainees. “We are ready to engage on a comprehensive exchange of all prisoners or detainees on both sides, in the United States, in Iran, and those that are waiting to be extradited to the United States. And this is a very simple and straightforward proposition,” U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said on January 25, 2021. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said that deadlock between Iran and the United States on the nuclear issue should not delay a prisoner swap. “We can discuss all the prisoners at one time and resolve this issue,” he told journalists on March 9, 2021.
In January 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Robert Malley as Special Envoy for Iran, who subsequently started negotiating with Tehran on prisoner swap. “We don't want to do a partial deal. We don't want to leave anyone behind,” he said in July 2021. “We’ve made some progress. We’re not there yet.” Malley added that the Iranians were being “extortionist.” He reiterated that the Americans had not committed any crimes.
Iran also said that its nationals were innocent. “The release of Iranian citizens who are unjustly — and based on phony charges and bogus allegations — detained in the United States has always been a high priority for the Islamic Republic of Iran. But, unfortunately, the U.S. has taken this issue hostage to the Vienna talks,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told NBC News. The negotiations on a prisoner swap were held concurrently with negotiations in Vienna with the world’s major powers on returning the United States and Iran to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. The following are profiles of foreigners and dual-nationals held in Iran.
U.S. Citizens and Residents
Emad Shargi, a 56-year old U.S. citizen, was first arrested in April 2018 and held in section 2A of Evin prison for 8 months. For his first 44 days in prison, he was held incommunicado, with no contact or access to the outside world, including family and legal counsel. While detained, he was repeatedly interrogated and also held in solitary confinement, according to Shargi’s family. He was questioned about his business dealings and travels.
Shargi was released on bail in December 2018. Approximately one year later, in December 2019, he was issued an official document from the Revolutionary Court declaring his innocence and clearing him of all spying and national security charges. But his passport was withheld, and he was not permitted to leave Iran.
On November 30, 2020, Shargi was summoned to court and convicted of espionage without a trial. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a family friend told NBC News. His lawyer filed an appeal. On January 14, 2021, the Young Journalists Club, a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that Shargi had been arrested near the western border. As of April 2021, he was being held in section 2A of Evin prison and has not been allowed visitors or access to legal counsel since his arrest, according to his family.
“Nobody has been able to see him in nearly five months,” Shargi’s two daughters, Ariana and Hannah, wrote in The Washington Post in April 2021. “He is trapped in terrible conditions during a deadly pandemic and is being refused a vaccine. We have no way of knowing how he is, except for a couple of short, monitored phone calls.”
Shargi and his wife, Amidi Shargi, were born in Iran but left as children. Emad Shargi completed his higher education in the United States. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. He previously worked in the plastics industry supplying plastics for water bottles and later at a company in Abu Dhabi leasing and selling private airplanes. He and his wife went to Iran in 2017, after their youngest child left home for college. At the time of his arrest in April 2018, he had just started working for the Dutch division of Sarava Holding, a tech investment company.
On January 24, 2018, the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization detained Morad Tahbaz, a dual American-Iranian citizen, and eight other environmental activists accused of espionage. Their trial began on in January 2019 but was delayed until the beginning of August. On November 20, 2019, an Iranian court sentenced Tahbaz to ten years in prison.
The activists were members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation conducting research on Iran’s endangered cheetah population. On October 24, 2018, the judiciary charged Tahbaz with “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.” One of the four charges against him included “sowing corruption on earth,” which typically carries the death penalty. But on October 14, 2019, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmail said the capital charge had been dropped. The activists still faced charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “contacts with U.S. enemy government … for the purpose of spying,” according to the judiciary.
Tahbaz reportedly has cancer and his health has continued to deteriorate because he has not received medication and treatment for more than a year.
Morad Tahbaz is one of at least nine environmental activists detained in Iran as security forces worked to quash an unexpectedly broad protest movement https://t.co/GuOX4prqxh— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 13, 2018
Karan Vafadari and Afarin Niasari
Husband and wife Karan Vafadari and Afarin Niasari were arrested by the IRGC intelligence organization in July 2016 and then held at Evin Prison. Details about their case were only published in December 2016. The couple reportedly manages an art gallery in Tehran. Niasari, a permanent U.S. resident, was apprehended by IRGC agents at Imam Khomeini airport when she attempted to visit family abroad, according to Vafadari’s sister. Soon after, Niasari was forced to call her husband and ask him to come to the airport, where he too was apprehended. The next day, they were brought back to their home handcuffed, while IRGC agents destroyed works of art hanging on their walls.
No formal charges were immediately brought against Vafadari and Niasari, however prosecutors alluded to the pair hosting mix gendered parties for foreign diplomats and Iranians where alcohol was consumed. Vafadari, however, is Zoroastrian, and therefore not subject himself to the ban on Muslim consumption of alcohol. Iran permits recognized minorities ― Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians ― to drink alcohol in the privacy of their homes.
Iran's IRGC has arrested Karan Vafadari an Iranian-American & his wife 3 months ago, a family member says.They ran an art gallery in Tehran. pic.twitter.com/JT8gfDvnwN— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) December 2, 2016
Vafadari and Niasari run an art gallery in Tehran, and Niasari also works as an architect. Vafadari, a dual national, was educated in the United States and he has three children that live in New York City. Since being detained, Vafadari has been able contact family members who have visited him a number of times.
In August 2016, Jafari Dowlat-Abadi, Tehran’s Prosecutor General described the Vafadari and Niasari home as “a center of immorality and prostitution.” The original charges were initially dropped due to lack of evidence, but reinstated at a hearing in March 2017, during which the pair was denied legal counsel.
New charges were brought against Vafadari and Niasari in a pre-trial hearing on March 8, 2017. The new charges included attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic and recruiting spies through foreign embassies. The trial was slated to begin on April 17 but has yet to be held.
In a letter to the judge dated July 24, Vafadari said that the charges against him and his wife were completely false. “It is my belief that judiciary officials arrested us for political and financial reasons, without sufficient investigation or evidence,” he wrote.
In a Jan. 21, 2018 letter, Vafadari stated he had been issued a 27-year prison sentence while his wife Niasari had received 16 years. Vafadari’s sentence included 124 lashes, confiscation of all assets, and a fine, he wrote. He cited charges related to espionage, alcohol consumption, receiving gifts of alcohol, and hosting parties. Vafadari attributed his treatment and sentence to being Zoroastrian and a dual national, with the asset seizure being justified by the court under an unprecedented use of 1928 Civil Code Article 989.
On July 21, 2018, Vafadari and Niasari were released from prison on bail after having their initial sentences reduced earlier in 2018. They were awaiting a final verdict on their appeal request as of late July.
Baquer Namazi was reportedly arrested on February 22, 2016, four months after his son Siamak was detained. The elder Namazi, age 80 at the time of his arrest, is a former provincial governor and UNICEF representative who worked in several countries, including Kenya, Somalia and Egypt. His work largely focused on aid for women and children affected by war. Baquer Namazi most recently ran Hamyaran, an umbrella organization of a number of different Iranian NGOs. On October 18, 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years for allegedly cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on Iran.
Namazi’s arrest occurred soon after a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran that coincided with the implementation of the nuclear deal. He and his son have been denied access to their family’s lawyer. The elder Namazi has a serious heart condition, as well as a host of other medical conditions that require medical attention, according to his wife.
In February 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel hearing that he was engaged on the issue of Namazi’s detention but could not comment due to privacy considerations.
In April 2016, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi suggested both Namazis could be swapped for Ahmad Sheikhzadeh— an Iranian consultant to the United Nations held in the United States on suspicion of tax and money laundering charges for helping violate sanctions. Ejehi, however, emphasized that he just “heard words from here and there though nothing has been officially conveyed to the judiciary.”
Namazi’s other son, Babak has spoken quite frequently about his father and brother’s imprisonment. In November 2016, in an interview with Steven Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, Babak discussed the impact of the ordeal on him and his family.
“As a family, we're devastated. It's just being bombarded for the past year with one horrible event after another. I have half my family ripped away from me. I'm wondering if I will see my father again. It's very horrible to say this, but he has been in essence handed a life sentence. A 10-year sentence for an 80-year-old man is a life sentence. But I have to do all I can to save my father's life and my brother's.”
Babak has since urged President Trump to take “personal responsibility” for negotiating his father and brother’s release. Baquer Namazi and his son Samiak currently remain jailed in Evin Prison.
In June 2017, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed to President Rouhani in a private letter to release Baquer on humanitarian grounds.
In August 2017, a Tehran appeals court upheld the convictions of both Namazis. Baquer’s health has deteriorated rapidly. “He is 81-years-old, previously had a triple bypass surgery, has lost 30 pounds in prison and suffers from shortness of breath, dizziness, bouts of confusion, and recently lost his hearing in one ear,” international counsel to the family, Jared Genser, said in a statement.
On September 5, 2017, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Siamak and Baquer Namazi were not granted a fair trial under internationally recognized law and called for their immediate release.
On September 19, 2017, Baquer underwent surgery to receive a pacemaker. One week prior, IRGC guards had refused to take him to the hospital despite being advised by cardiologists, prompting pleas from his family. Three days later, U.N. Secretary General Guterres urged President Rouhani to release Namazi on humanitarian grounds during a meeting in New York.
On January 15, 2018, Baquer was rushed to the hospital after a severe drop in blood pressure and irregular heartbreak. He was granted a four-day medical leave beginning on January 28. He was told to report to the government’s medical examiner on February 4, and that his leave would be extended until then. The examiner recommended a three-month leave on medical grounds. But on February 6, 2018, Namazi received a call ordering him to return to Evin Prison.
On February 7, 2018, the White House issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Namazi and all other U.S. citizens detained in Iran.
On August 26, 2018 the Tehran Appeals Court denied the appeals of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, upholding their convictions of collaborating with the U.S. government. The Namazis U.S.-based lawyer Jared Genser condemned the move as a “cruel and unjust decision” of the court.
On August 28, 2018, the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that Namazi had been released on medical furlough “for a considerable length of time” due to complications from his heart condition. He has to report back to Evin Prison weekly and is unable to leave the country to undergo heart surgery, according to his family.
On October 4, 2021, Namazi’s family said that he required urgent surgery to remove a 95 percent to 97 percent blockage in his right internal carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain. Neurologists in Iran and the United States warned that his risk of death, stroke or heart attack could be 10 percent to 15 percent higher if is forced to undergo surgery in Iran. Namazi would risk contracting COVID-19 in an Iranian hospital. “I am begging for Iran to show mercy and for the international community, President Joe Biden, and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to do everything that they can to pressure Iran to lift the travel ban.,” said son Babak Namazi. “My dad deserves to spend whatever little time he has left with his children and grandchildren.”
February 22, 2022 marked the sixth anniversary of Namazi's detention. “We call on the Iranian government to allow Baquer Namazi to return home, and release his son Siamak, as well as their fellow U.S. citizens Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, who is also a U.K. citizen,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous.”
Dubai-based businessman Siamak Namazi was arrested in mid-October 2015. On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Namazi had been indicted but did not specify the charges. On October 18, 2016, after being tried without access to a lawyer, Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with a foreign government.
Namazi is the son of a former governor of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran, according to The Washington Post. His family came to the United States in 1983 when he was a boy. He became a U.S. citizen in 1993. After graduating from college, Namazi returned to Iran for military service, which is compulsory there. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as a duty officer with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in Tehran.
In 1998, Namazi founded Future Alliance International, a Washington D.C.-based consulting company focused on the risk of doing business in Iran. He came to see Iranian-Americans as a potential asset to his home country. “The new generation must be made to feel that no matter how much time elapses they will be welcomed and treated with respect in the land of their parents,” he wrote in 1998 for The Iranian. He suggested that Iran’s recognition of dual citizenship would be a good first step. “Iranian-Americans are a formidable force in helping mend the bridge between Iran and the United States,” he stated in a 1999 co-authored paper.
Namazi later worked as Managing Director at a family consulting firm founded in Tehran that later moved to Dubai, the Atieh Group. In 2005, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He also did a stint at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006. He then worked for a few different energy consulting groups in Dubai. In 2013, Namazi warned that sanctions unintentionally created shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran. He was General Manager of Access Consulting Group, a Dubai-based consultancy focused on energy, before moving on to his most recent position at Crescent Petroleum. Namazi holds degrees from the London Business School and from Rutgers and Tufts Universities.
On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Namazi had been indicted but did not specify the charges. On October 17, the Mizan news agency, the judiciary news service, posted a video that appeared to show Namazi in the hours immediately following his arrest. The short clip was an anti-American montage that showed images of a captured American surveillance drone, Jason Rezaian (a dual-national journalist who was accused of spying for the United States), U.S. sailors kneeling before being detained by Iranian forces and more.
Clip shows detention moment of American-Iranian Siamak Namazi in Iran pic.twitter.com/i9hQbLvxNh— Sobhan Hassanvand (@Hassanvand) October 16, 2016
On October 18, 2016, after being tried without access to a lawyer, Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with a foreign government. Five other defendants were also convicted and given similar sentences, including Siamak Namazi’s father Baquer. Namazi and his father are being held in Evin Prison by the IRGC.
Siamak Namazi’s brother Babak spoke out against the sentences, calling them unjust. “My father has been handed practically a death sentence,” Babak wrote. “Siamak’s only crime has been to speak out against the negative effects of sanctions.” Babak was referring to an Op-Ed essay Namazi wrote for The New York Times in 2013.
In April 2017, Namazi’s lawyer, Jared Genser, called on President Trump to secure the release of Namazi and his father. “If not resolved quickly, the Namazi cases could have an outsized impact on the trajectory of Iran-US relations because both men are in rapidly declining health,” Genser stated. “In our view, something happening to the Namazis would be devastating not just to one side, but to both sides.” “For either or both of the Namazi to die on President Trump’s watch would be a public and catastrophic failure of his negotiating skills.”
Siamak Namazi’s health has declined since his arrest following prolonged periods of interrogation and a hunger strike in 2016. In August 2017, a Tehran appeals court upheld the convictions of both Siamak and his father, Baquer. “The Namazis are innocent of the charges on which they were convicted and they are prisoners of conscience, detained in Iran because they are American citizens,” international counsel to the family, Jared Genser, said in a statement.
In September 2017, a U.N. panel of international legal experts reportedly concluded that the imprisonment of the Namazis was illegal and that they should be freed.
On August 26, 2018 the Tehran Appeals Court denied the appeals of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, upholding their convictions of collaborating with the U.S. government. The Namazis U.S.-based lawyer Jared Genser condemned the move as a “cruel and unjust decision” of the court.
On February 7, 2020, the Ghanoon Telegram messaging app channel published a letter that Namazi had written from Evin Prison. In the letter, Namazi asked Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi why he had not been granted furlough while other prisoners were allowed to go on temporary leave. “For the past four years, while enduring punishment for a crime I did not commit, I have been trying to restore my rights with the help of almighty God within the laws of our beloved country,” Namazi wrote. “Four years and four months have passed without a break… Meanwhile I have witnessed the brother of a senior state official being given furlough just hours after being put into prison.”
On March 2, the Namazi family’s lawyer, Jared Gensler, reported that his client was at “serious risk” of contracting the virus. “To keep Siamak at Evin prison in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak and without access to testing or even basic medicines constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in violation of Iran’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture,” said Genser. On March 3, Iran’s judiciary announced that it would grant furloughs to 54,000 healthy prisoners to help stem the spread of the virus. It was unclear whether Namazi would also be granted furlough.
Aras Amiri, a dual British-Australian national, was arrested in March 2018 while visiting her sick grandmother. She was charged with spying on behalf of Britain and held in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison. In May 2019, Amiri was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Amiri, who was born in Iran, had worked for the British Council and was enrolled in a graduate program at Britain's Kensington College of Business.
In July 2019, she claimed that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry had asked her to spy for Iran before her sentencing. "Following my release on bail… the case investigators kept contacting me,” she wrote in the letter translated by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. “During our third meeting, I turned down their explicit invitation for cooperation and told them I could only work in my specific field, not any other kind of work.”
On April 9, she was granted temporary release due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran's prisons, according to her family.
British resident and Londoner, Aras Amiri who has been unjustly imprisoned in #Iran's Evin Prison since 2018 with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been temporarily released on furlough.— Daren Nair (@DarenNair) April 9, 2020
The Iranian authorities must let her come home to London to be with her fiancé. #FreeAras https://t.co/d0lq3a7mZz
Kameel Ahmady, a dual Iranian-British national, was arrested on August 11, 2019, at his home in Iran. Ahmady is an anthropologist who has studied politically sensitive issues, including child marriage and female genital mutilation in Iran. He was born in the Kurdish city of Mahabad in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province. Ahmady received a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Arts London and his master's from the University of Kent, Canterbury-UK, according to his personal website.
Except for a one-minute phone call from Evin Prison, Iranian-British social anthropologist Kameel Ahmady has had no contact with his family since he was detained on August 11, according to his wife. https://t.co/y8nbnrra5e— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) August 14, 2019
Shafagh Rahmani, Ahmady’s wife, confirmed his detention but said she was given no information about the charges against him. “I was traveling when Kameel was arrested,” she said. “I came back home on Monday and on Tuesday I went to the court in Evin Prison to ask about his situation. The [judicial authorities] did not respond to my questions. They told me that his case had to do with national security and he was arrested by intelligence agents.”
Rahmani said “security agents” confiscated documents and Ahmady’s ID card before detaining him. She said he was given a one-month temporary detention while prosecutors developed their case. Ahmady was reportedly being held in Evin prison. On October 1, Iranian authorities confirmed Ahmady’s had been detained over suspected ties to foreign intelligence services.
In December 2020, Ahmady’s lawyer reported that he had been convicted of “collaborating with a hostile government” and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht
Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht was arrested in autumn of 2013 while visiting Shiraz. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 for Facebook posts which allegedly criticized the Iranian regime for being too controlling and Islamic. The 50 year old was arrested upon arrival at the Shiraz airport by the cyber crime intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards, with the official charges being “gathering and participation with intent to commit crimes against national security” and “insulting Islamic sanctities.”
Nobakht was taken to Evin prison, denied access to proper legal channels, and reportedly tortured. She confessed to crimes against the state, which were eventually determined to be extracted under duress. She was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison, however, was later given a reduced sentence of seven years.
In the seven years prior to her arrest, Nobakht had been living as a housewife in the United Kingdom in the Stockport suburb of Heald Green. She reportedly had no history of political activism, either online or in person, and the sole purpose of her trip to Iran was to see her family.
On October 24, 2016 petitions for Nobakht’s release, as well as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi, were delivered with a letter co-signed by 117 Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords to the British government. “We have very strong humanitarian and health concerns about their detentions,” the letter stated. “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.” Amnesty International sponsored the petition.
Benjamin Briere, a 35-year old French citizen, was detained in May 2020 while on vacation. He was allegedly flying a drone and taking pictures in a prohibited area - a national park - on the Turkmenistan-Iran border. Briere was imprisoned for nine months before his lawyers discussed the case publicly. They had feared that any public statement could hurt potential negotiations to free Briere. Briere was held at the Vakilabad Central Prison in Mashhad.
In May 2021, Briere was charged with espionage. Due to social media posts in which Briere criticized Iran’s policy of mandatory veiling for women, Briere was also charged with “propaganda against the system.” Two other charges of “alcoholism” and “corruption on earth,” the latter potentially carrying a death sentence, were dropped.
From May 2020 to May 2021, Brie was permitted only four phone calls with his family. In May 2021, his sister appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron in an open letter. She wrote that her brother was being used as a “negotiating tool” and urged Macron “to make this detention stop.”
On January 20, 2022, Briere’s trial began. His lawyer later announced that he had been sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage and an additional eight months for propaganda against the system. “It is unacceptable that Benjamin Briere remains a hostage to negotiations on the part of a regime that persists in its desire to arbitrarily detain a French citizen and use him as a bargaining chip,” Briere’s Paris-based lawyer, Philippe Valent said. The French foreign ministry said that the verdict was “unacceptable.”
Fariba Adelkhah, a prominent French-Iranian anthropology and social sciences researcher, was detained in June 2019. Adelkhah was reportedly arrested by the IRGC intelligence organization on “probable charges of espionage.” She was conducting research in Iran and visiting her mother at the time of her arrest.
Her colleagues first reported her missing when she did not return home on June 25 as originally planned. Jean-Francois Bayart, a close friend of Adelkhah, noted that she was arrested on June 5 and was being held at Evin prison in Tehran. "She has been visited by her family. She hasn't been mistreated, but I'm worried about her because she isn't physically strong," Bayart said.
France's Foreign Ministry says "no satisfactory response has been given" by #Iran to requests for information about/consular access for Iranian-French dual national and academic #FaribaAdelkhah, detained in Iran since June 2019, reports France 24 https://t.co/F5DribwHeI. pic.twitter.com/cpStv14uzS— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) July 15, 2019
Adelkhah is the Director of Research at the Center for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po in Paris. Adelkhah, a dual national, was born in Tehran on April 25, 1959 but left for France in 1977 to study. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in 1989. Her research has focused on social and political change in Iran during the second half of the 20th century. Adelkhah has written several books on Islam and Iran including “Being Modern in Iran,” her best-known book.
On July 15, 2019, the French foreign ministry acknowledged Adelkhah’s arrest but said it had not received “satisfactory” information on her status. “The French authorities were recently informed of the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah. France calls on the Iranian authorities to shed full light on Mrs Adelkhah’s situation and repeats its demands, particularly with regard to an immediate authorisation for consular access. No satisfactory response has been received until now,” the foreign ministry said.
A spokesman for the Iranian government claimed to have no information on the case. "I heard the news, [but] do not know who arrested her and on what grounds," Ali Rabiei told Tasnim news agency on July 15.
On July 16, Iran's Judiciary confirmed that Adelkhah had been arrested. "This person was detained recently...but due to the nature of the case, this is not the proper time to give any information about it," said Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.
France has demanded consular access to Adelkhah. Iran, however, does not recognize dual nationality and, therefore, does not grant dual nationals consular visits by foreign officials.
On June 5, 2020, French President Emanuel Macron called on Iran to immediately release Adelkhah. "One year ago, Fariba Adelkhah was arbitrarily arrested in Iran. It is unacceptable that she is still in prison," Macron tweeted. "My message to Iranian authorities: justice demands that our compatriot be immediately released."
Iran rejected France's request. "Political pressure and propaganda campaigns cannot disrupt the execution of (Adelkhah’s) legal sentence," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state media. "We hope that French authorities ... put an end to interference in the internal affairs of our country."
In October 2020, Adelkhah was granted temporary release from prison to go to her family’s home in Tehran. She was required to wear an ankle monitor during her furlough.
On January 16, 2022, the judiciary said that Adelkhah was returned to prison after allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest. The French foreign ministry warned that move could have “negative consequences” on bilateral relatiosn.
Nazak Afshar, a 58-year-old former employee of France’s Foreign Ministry, was detained upon arrival in Iran on March 12, 2016. She returned to visit her critically ill mother.
Afshar was first arrested in 2009 for “giving refuge to anarchists in the cultural section of the French Embassy” in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, when authorities used violence to quash mass protests. She appeared as a defendant in a mass trial of those who questioned the election results. No verdict was issued, however, so she was released. Afshar then flew to Paris.
Afshar was sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Abolqasem Salvati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court. The charges have not been publicized. After her sentencing, Afshar was eventually released from Evin prison on bail. As of May 2016, she was awaiting a ruling on her appeal against the sentence.
Massud Mossaheb, a 73 year old Austrian-Iranian dual citizen, was arrested in January 2019 on espionage charges. Mossaheb is a former businessman and secretary-general of the Vienna-based “Austrian-Iranian Friendship Society,” which promotes ties between the two countries. He was detained during a business trip with a delegation representing Med Austron, a radiation therapy technology company jointly owned by Austria and Russia. He is being held in Evin Prison.
On July 31, 2019, Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Peter Guschelbauer demanded Mossaheb's release on humanitarian grounds due to his age.
Iranian-Austrian national Dr. Massud Mossaheb has been detained on trumped up charges in Iran for almost a year. He is now is facing the death penalty with the trial set to start tomorrow. #FreeMassud immediately. #FreeRouhaniHostages pic.twitter.com/3MrqPcXmcC— International Observatory of Human Rights (@observatoryihr) January 3, 2020
In April 2020, Mossaheb was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being convicted of “espionage for Germany,” “collaborating with a hostile government,” and “receiving illicit funds.” In November 2020, Amnesty International called for his release due to his medical conditions and heightened risk of severe illness or death if he were to contract COVID-19.
Kamran Ghaderi was arrested on January 2, 2016 upon arrival in Iran at Imam Khomeini International Airport. Ghaderi is an Austrian-Iranian dual citizen who was a member of an Austrian business delegation to Tehran in 2015.
Ghaderi was accused “conducting espionage for enemy states.” Authorities produced a confession from Ghaderi in February 2016. Ghaderi reportedly signed the confession because the authorities threatened to detain his wife, who had flown to Iran to visit him at the invitation of the Intelligence Ministry.
On October 18, 2016, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Dolatabadi announced that Ghaderi had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage on behalf of the United States. Ghaderi’s wife claimed that her husband has no ties to the United States.
Ghaderi has not been receiving treatment for a tumor in his leg, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. He is being held in Evin Prison.
Respectfully, H.E. @Khamenei_ir— FreeKamran Ghaderi (@FreekamranG) March 15, 2019
In the name of God 🙏 please grant #FreeKamranGhaderi an humanitarian release as allowed by Iranian law. Let him come home #Nowruz to his 3 children! For 1167 days he is away from his family!@khamenei_ir@HassanRouhani@JZarif@araghchi pic.twitter.com/JN9UYxp85l
Emergency disaster relief expert Ahmadreza Jalali was arrested on April 24, 2016 in Tehran by the Ministry of Intelligence. The 46 year-old physician and Swedish resident was invited to visit by Tehran University and is now reportedly being held on charges of “collaborating with enemy states.” Jalali has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 25, 2016, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. In February 2017, his wife, Vida Mehrannia, who lives in Stockholm with their two children, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that her husband had been charged with “the death penalty for collaboration with enemy states.”
Jalali has taught at universities in Belgium, Italy and Sweden. The Italian government said that it “activated its channels of communication with the Iranian authorities to highlight its extreme concern.” The Swedish government has asked for “consular access” to Jallali.
In April 2017, a Flemish newspaper reported that Jalali told his sister that he was forced to sign a confession, for which he will receive the death penalty.
On Oct. 21, 2017, Jalali was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to death. In an undated letter released after his conviction, Jalali stated he had been arrested for refusing to spy for Iranian intelligence.
The Iranian Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 5, 2017 to uphold Jalali’s death sentence for espionage. Less than two weeks later, state television aired what appeared to be a forced confession, which was recorded while he was being held in solitary confinement under extreme duress.
As of January 2018, a branch of the Iranian Supreme Court was reviewing the death sentence.
In June 2020, Vida Mehran Nia, Jalali's wife, said that Iran's judiciary had refused a request to temporarily release Jalali due to the spread of COVID-19. She warned that Jalali's health was in danger because he had a gastrointestinal disease that weakened his immune system.
In November 2020, Iran rejected an appeal by Sweden’s Foreign Ministry to not enforce the death sentence in Jalali’s case.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at the airport on April 3, 2016, on her way out of the country after visiting her parents. Iran’s state news agency reported in June 2016 that she was accused of trying to cause a “soft toppling” of the Iranian government. Iranian media reported that she was implicated in anti-government protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election. The 40-year-old is a program manager for the Thomson-Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was separated from her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella and taken to an unknown prison in Kerman province some 600 miles south-east of Tehran. Authorities seized Gabriella’s British passport, leaving her stranded in Iran under the care of her grandparents.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, said that his wife was moved out of solitary confinement after 45 days in prison. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has lived in Britain since 2007, told her parents that her case relates to “national security,” according to The Telegraph. She has not been granted access to a lawyer.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allowed to see her parents and daughter on May 11, 2016, and was allowed almost daily phone calls with her family until June 5. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, saw the loss of communication as an indicator that she may have been put back in solitary confinement. In July 2016, he said that she had lost weight, seen her hair fall out and was virtually unable to walk.
On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that she had been indicted but did not specify the charges. Richard Ratcliffe told the media that a member of the Revolutionary Guards told the family that his wife would be released as long as the British government reached “an agreement” with them. The U.K. foreign ministry has said it has raised the case “at the highest levels.” Prime Minister Theresa May raised the case in a meeting with President Rouhani on Sept. 21, 2016 in New York.
Richard Ratcliffe announced on Sept. 9, 2016, that his wife was sentenced to five years in prison. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was convicted on secret charges in a Revolutionary Court. A prosecutor reportedly confirmed in January 2017 that the sentence had been finalized. In late April 2017, her final appeal at the Supreme Court was rejected.
In May 2017, Gabriella, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter, had her passport returned to her. Richard Ratcliffe wrote to the Iranian Embassy to thank them for the release of Gabriella’s passport. “I regard her now as no longer formally detained by the Iranian authorities,” he wrote.
On Sept. 20, 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May urged President Rouhani to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
In October 2017, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was charged with two more offenses which, if proven, carry a 16-year prison sentence on top of the five-year prison sentence which she was already serving. The charges allege that Ms. Ratcliffe joined organizations working to overthrow the Iranian government, and attended demonstrations outside of the Iranian embassy in London. Iranian authorities claimed to have a photo proving her participation, found on her private email account.
In October 2017, Iran's Prosecutor General Abbas Jaffari Dolatabadi said that a letter written by David Cameron pleading for the release of Ms. Nazanin was "confirmation that she had links with the U.K. government."
By Nov. 1, 2017, more than one million people had signed a Change.org petition calling for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. On the following day, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson condemned her imprisonment and offered to visit her.
On Nov. 4, 2017, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought before an Iranian Revolutionary Court facing additional charges for spreading propaganda against the regime. Her five-year sentence could reportedly be increased to 16 years.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson apologized on Nov. 13, 2017, for remarks that suggested Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been working in Iran, rather than travelling there for personal reasons. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, rejected Johnson’s initial comments that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching journalism in Iran.
In December 2017, Johnson travelled to Iran to encourage the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals.
On Dec. 22, 2017, the Judiciary rejected reports that Zaghari-Ratcliffe might be released soon after an official database listed her as eligible for early release. The Judiciary stated new charges had been brought against her.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated Jan. 11, 2018 that he had raised Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
On July 21, 2018, the judge in charge of judicial affairs at Evin prison told Zaghari-Ratcliffe she would not be released from prison under any circumstances until the United Kingdom paid an outstanding debt of $394 million to Iran. The demand referred to a pre-revolution arms deal in which Iran made payment, but the United Kingdom failed to deliver the arms due to the political upheaval.
On August 23, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was awarded a temporary three-day furlough from prison for the first time in two years. During the furlough, she was able to reunite with her four-year-old daughter. She returned to Evin prison in Iran on August 26 to complete her five-year sentence after her furlough extension was refused.
On September 25, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case in a meeting with President Rouhani.
Nazanin spent her 40th birthday in detainment on December 26, 2018, marking her 1,000th day spent incarcerated in Iranian prison. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, in a joint statement with Nazanin’s husband, said they are “united in calling on the Iranian authorities to release Nazanin immediately along with the others who are being wrongly detained.”
On January 13, 2019, Nazanin initiated a three-day hunger strike to protest denial of medical care. Richard Ratcliffe stated that Nazanin was “pushed to the edge” after members of Revolutionary Guards allegedly asked her to spy on the United Kingdom for Iran in return for her eventual freedom. Ratcliffe further explained that they wanted Nazanin to target the UK’s Department for International Development and a human rights research group, Small Media.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe ended the hunger strike following the decision of prison authorities to grant her medical treatment for lumps in her breasts, her severe neck pain, and numbness in her arms and legs. Nazanin received treatment at Iranmehr hospital. As a result of the hunger strike, Nazanin reportedly lost six and a half pounds in weight and suffered from “constant headaches, dizziness, and nausea.”
On September 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Britain had offered 400 million euros of frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The deal was initially proposed in 2016 by former British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond, according to Zarif. “Jeremy started to play tough because he wanted to become prime minister and it didn’t work out for anybody,” Zarif said. The frozen funds were owed to Iran for a decades-old tank sale that Britain never honored.
On October 2, the Center for Human Rights in Iran published an open letter written by Zaghari-Ratcliffe from Evin prison. In the letter, Zaghari-Ratcliffe pleaded for Iran to release her and end her separation from her five-year-old daughter. “My child and I are the playthings of politicians, inside and outside our homeland, who have used us as tools to try to achieve their own political goals,” she wrote.
On March 17, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family said that she had been granted temporary release until April 4. She was reportedly required to wear an ankle monitor and remain within 300 meters of her family's home in Tehran. The judiciary reported that 85,000 prisoners had been released to stem the spread of Iran’s coronavirus outbreak.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had to wear an ankle monitor during her furlough.
On March 28, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband reported that her furlough had been extended an additional two weeks. He also said that the judiciary was considering granting her clemency, which would need approval from the supreme leader.
On May 20, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's furlough was extended indefinitely until a decision could be made on clemency. She was still required to wear an ankle monitor and check every Saturday to see if she had to return to prison.
On September 8, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court summoned Zaghari-Ratcliffe to inform her of a new charge. The new indictment reopened previous propaganda charges for which she had already been imprisoned. A new trial was scheduled for September 13.
On September 13, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's new trial was postponed without any explanation. In a conversation with her husband, Zaghari-Ratcliffe related her exasperation. “I really can’t take it anymore. They have all these games, and I have no power in them. Sometimes I am just full of anger, ready to explode…There is no escape,” she said. “This morning I wanted to get it over with – to know where I stand now rather than continue with this whole stupid game.”
On October 28, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s new trial was scheduled for November 2, 2020. Her husband said that two Revolutionary Guards delivered the court summons and informed Zaghari-Ratcliffe that she would return to Evin prison after her court appearance.
On November 2, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was tried again for undermining the Iranian state. No new evidence was presented during the trial and Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not given time to present a defense. The U.K. Foreign Office had warned that there would be consequences for U.K.-Iran relations if Zaghari-Ratcliffe were imprisoned again. She was returned to house arrest in her parent’s home in Tehran.
On March 7, 2021, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's house arrest ended and her ankle monitor was removed. She was still required to remain in Iran to appear in court again on March 14, 2021 for propaganda charges. Richard Ratcliffe said that he was pleased to see his wife’s ankle monitor taken off but was disappointed by the new court summons. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable.”
On April 26, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. She was also banned from traveling abroad for one year. Her husband said that she intended to appeal the decision. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Zaghari-Ratfcliffe's imprisonment "wrong" and pledged to work to secure her release. "The government will not stop, we will redouble our efforts, and we are working with our American friends on this issue as well," Johnson said.
On March 16, 2022, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released after nearly six years. She, along with Anoosheh Ashoori, returned to Britain and to reunite with family.
Anoush Ashoori, a dual Iranian-British national, was arrested in Tehran in August 2017 on charges of espionage. He had returned to Iran to help his mother recover from a knee operation. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that Ashoori was sentenced to 10 years for working for Israel's Mossad and an additional two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth.” Ashoori spent nearly five years in Evin prison before he was released on March 16, 2022 along with Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He has maintained that he was wrongly convicted.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a dual British-Australian national, was arrested in September 2018 by IRGC intelligence agents on charges of espionage. The Islamic studies expert and lecturer from the University of Melbourne was reportedly detained after attending a academic conference in Tehran. Her family did not make her arrest public until September 2019, after an appeal on her 10-year prison sentence was denied. Moore-Gilbert was placed in an extremely restrictive ward of Tehran’s Evin prison.
In January 2020, the Center for Human Rights in Iran released letters written by Moore-Gilbert in 2019 that detailed her treatment while in prison. She wrote that the IRGC had pressured her to serve as a spy but that she had rejected the offer. She said that her mental and physical health were quickly deteriorating. “I’m taking psychiatric medications, but these 10 months that I have spent here have gravely damaged my mental health,” Moore-Gilbert wrote in a letter to an Iranian official in July 2019. “I am still denied phone calls and visitations, and I am afraid that my mental and emotional state may further deteriorate if I remain in this extremely restrictive detention ward.”
"It is clear that the IRGC's Intelligence unit is playing an awful game with me," wrote British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who is being unlawfully held in a severely restrictive ward of Iran's Evin Prison. https://t.co/IP0FVfW7hE— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) January 21, 2020
In July 2020, Moore-Gilbert was transferred to Qarchak Prison, a women’s prison located east of Tehran. Qarchak is notorious for its deplorable living conditions and is included on the State Department’s list of entities involved in “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Moore-Gilbert was moved back to Evin Prison in October 2020.
On November 26, 2020, Kylie Moore-Gilbert was released in exchange for three Iranians imprisoned in Thailand for a botched bomb plot allegedly targeting Israeli diplomats in 2012.
U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, 46, from Imperial Beach, California, was arrested on unspecified charges in late July 2018 while visiting his girlfriend in Iran. In March 2019, White was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the supreme leader and 10 years posting a private photograph publicly.
White arrived in Iran on July 9, 2018 and never made it onto his return flight on July 27, 2018, according to his mother, Joanne White. She last spoke with him on July 13, 2018; she filed a missing-person report when Michael did not return on his scheduled flight. In December 2018, the State Department informed her that White was being held in an Iranian prison and that U.S. officials were seeking access to him through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which has provided consular services for Americans since 1980.
On March 11, 2019, an Iranian prosecutor said White had been sentenced, but he did not elaborate on the charges. An attorney for the family, Mark Zaid, later said that he was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly insulting the supreme leader and 10 years for posting a private photograph on social media. Zaid said that he believed the sentences would run concurrently.
In August 2019, Swiss diplomats were granted permission to visit White in prison. The Swiss were told that prison doctors removed melanoma from his back earlier that month. White "continues to have medical issues” related to his cancer and previous chemotherapy treatments, according to a report from the Swiss embassy. He is currently awaiting a ruling on his appeal.
In January 2020, White's mother released audio from a phone conversation she had with him in prison. He alleged that he had been subject to torture and inhuman conditions. "They've done everything to press me," White said. "They put me in isolation. They subjected me to torture conditions—deprivation of food and water numerous times."
On March 19, the State Department announced that White was temporarily released from prison on a medical furlough. He was transferred to a hotel but remained in Iranian custody. His release was facilitated by the Swiss, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. White was required to remain in Iran throughout his furlough. “He’s in very good spirits. But he has some preexisting health conditions that are going to require some attention,” said U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.
1/x Since being released on furlough, Michael White has had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 – fever, fatigue, cough & shortness of breath. While he has yet to receive test results, Michael was prescribed hydroxychloroquine over the weekend and was hospitalized today. pic.twitter.com/veGCbv1fCZ— Free Michael White (@FreeMikeWhite) March 26, 2020
On March 25, White was admitted to a hospital ward for coronavirus patients after experiencing fever, fatigue, a cough and shortness of breath. White’s family said that he "is an immunocompromised cancer patient and his situation is urgent." They called for an immediate humanitarian medical evacuation to the United States to receive medical treatment. In early May, Switzerland asked Iran to extend White’s medical furlough. White was eventually transferred back to the hotel after his condition improved.
On May 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Switzerland for its efforts. “Our gratitude also goes out to Switzerland, the United States protecting power in Iran for now four decades, for its efforts to extend Michael White’s medical furlough and seeking humanitarian furloughs for Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz and bringing home all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference.
On June 4, Joanne White announced that her son had been released. “For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare. I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home,” she said.
On October 16, 2019, France’s foreign ministry confirmed that Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan Africa specialist at Paris university Sciences Po, was arrested in June 2019 while visiting Fariba Adelkhah in Tehran. The two were reportedly in a romantic relationship.
France had initially tried to keep Marchal’s detention confidential to protect negotiations. The French foreign ministry said Marchal had received consular visits and had a lawyer. “We want the Iranian authorities to show transparency in this affair and to act without delay to put an end to this unacceptable situation,” said ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll.
On December 10, 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the release of Adelkhah and Marchal on International Human Rights Day. "They must be freed without delay. I told President Rouhani, I repeat it here,” he said on Twitter. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi dismissed Macron’s comments and warned France against interfering in Iran’s domestic matters.
Our colleagues Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal were arrested in Iran in June 2019 while carrying out their research. They are currently being detained in Iran. https://t.co/adSWAaX4yE @CERI_SciencesPo pic.twitter.com/A8vpd1YAuH— CERI Sciences Po (@CERI_SciencesPo) October 16, 2019
On February 7, 2020, Marchal and Adelkhah, who had been partners for 38 years, filed separate petitions asking the judiciary to allow them to get married. A marriage license would allow Marchal and Adelkhah to see each other while in Tehran’s Evin Prison. The pair’s lawyer said that a decision was expected the following week.
On March 21, 2020, France announced that Roland Marchal, a French national detained in Iran on security charges, was released as part of a prisoner swap with Tehran. In return, France agreed to release Jalal Ruhollahnejad, an Iranian engineer arrested for violating U.S. sanctions. In May 2019, France had approved the extradition of Ruhollahnejad to the United States, where he faced charges of attempting to illegally import U.S. technology for military purposes.
Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Wang was arrested on August 8, 2016 while conducting research in Iran on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty for his doctoral dissertation. On July 17, 2017, Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying, according to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, and Iranian media.
Princeton University can confirm the release of its graduate student, Xiyue Wang, from Iran. We are working with his family and the U.S. government to ensure his safe and speedy return to the United States. Fuller statement coming shortly. pic.twitter.com/QhUd1nY8uY— Princeton University (@Princeton) December 7, 2019
Wang was born in China and is a naturalized American citizen. He studied in China as a child and for his first year of college. He dropped out after securing a chance to study India before heading to the University of Washington in 2003, according to The Washington Post. He studied Russian and Eurasia studies at Harvard University before working as a Princeton in Asia fellow at the law firm Orrick in Hong Kong in 2008. Wang also worked as a translator for the International Committee of Red Cross in Afghanistan. In 2013, he began his doctoral work at Princeton University.
On July 17, 2017, Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying, according to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, and Iranian media. A U.S. citizen “was gathering intelligence and was directly guided by the U.S.,” Ejehi announced at a weekly press briefing on July 16. He noted the sentence could be appealed but did not elaborate or reveal the individual’s name.
Mizan Online News Agency, however, identified Wang. In a report citing an anonymous source, Mizan alleged that Wang had been using his academic research as a cover and was working on a 4,500-page digital archive for “the world’s biggest anti-Iran spying organization.” The article said he infiltrated Iran’s national archive and gathered secret and top-secret intelligence for the U.S. State Department, the Harvard Kennedy School and the British Institute of Persian Studies.
State Department officials told journalists that they were aware of the reports about the dual national but that they would not detail efforts on this case or others for privacy reasons. “The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security-related changes," an official said.
Princeton University also issued a statement saying they were “very distressed by the charges brought against him in connection with his scholarly activities, and by his subsequent conviction and sentence.” Princeton has reportedly been working with Wang’s family, the U.S. government and lawyers to help secure his release.
In August 2017, Iranian authorities denied Wang’s appeal. “I am devastated that my husband’s appeal has been denied, and that he continues to be unjustly imprisoned in Iran on groundless accusations of espionage and collaboration with a hostile government against the Iranian state,” his wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement.
In a November 2017 interview with NBC, Qu stated her husband had attempted suicide and that his condition was “very desperate.” She also called on the Trump administration to work with the Iranian government to bring about his release.
On August 23, 2018, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a statement calling on Iran to immediately release Wang. It said that Iran had “no legal basis for the arrest and detention” of Wang and that he had been wrongly accused of espionage. The Working Group obtained a response to the petition from the government of Iran. The Iranian response, however, failed to explain how Wang had cooperated with a foreign state against Iran’s government or “how Mr. Wang’s trial on espionage charges posed a national security threat so serious that it warranted a closed hearing.”
On December 7, 2019, Wang was released in Switzerland in exchange for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian national held in an Atlanta prison for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions. President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif thanked the Swiss for their help in arranging the trade.
On October 2, 2019, Yulia Yuzik, a Russian journalist, was arrested in Tehran on charges of espionage for Israel. Iranian authorities seized her passport at the airport when she arrived in Tehran on September 29. They arrested her four days later in her hotel room. Yukiz had reported from Iran for several Russian media outlets.
Russia summoned the Iranian ambassador on October 4, 2019 to discuss the case. Three days later, Tehran said Yuzik was arrested for a “visa violation” and not for spying as initially reported. She was released on October 10, 2019.
Russia has summoned the Iranian ambassador over the arrest of the Russian journalist Yulia Yuzik by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran, who accuse her of cooperating with Israeli intelligence. https://t.co/qXe9KGwyrI— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) October 4, 2019
Yuzik said Iranian interrogators accused her of working for Israel. "They were sure that Yuzik was a Jewish surname, there was no doubt that I was Jewish and worked as an analyst for the Israeli secret services," she said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty published on October 12.
Jolie King and Mark Firkin
Jolie King, a British-Australian dual citizen, and her Australian boyfriend, Mark Firkin, were arrested in June. The two travel bloggers were detained during a cross-continent trek from Perth, Australia to London. The couple was detained for flying a drone near Tehran without a permit, according to a prominent Iranian journalist. They stopped posting to social media in late June. The couple was being held at Evin Prison in Tehran with many other foreign detainees. King was reportedly held for weeks in solitary confinement, according to a fellow prisoner.
Update on 3 Australians detained in #Iran (based on judiciary spokesman's Sept. 17 comments):— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) September 18, 2019
Mark Firkin & Jolie King have been issued indictments for flying a drone in Tehran.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been accused of "espionage" and is awaiting trial.https://t.co/Mn71NIWohQ pic.twitter.com/0X1REjQR9Y
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the detention of three of its citizens and said Sydney was providing consular assistance to the families of all three. “We have no reason to think that these arrests are connected to international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, United Nations sanctions or sanctions enforcement or maritime security and
On October 5, Iran released an Firkin and King after three months of detention. Iran dropped all charges against the travel bloggers following “very sensitive negotiations” with the Australian government.
41-year-old Saeed Malekpour was arrested in October 2008 for allegedly moderating a pornographic website. He returned to Iran to visit his dying father. Malekpour, born and raised in Iran, holds a degree in metallurgical engineering from Sharif University of Tehran and worked for Iran Khodro, one of the country’s largest auto manufacturers. In 2004, he moved to Canada with his wife and was granted permanent residency status, living Richmond Hill, Ontario where he found work as a web developer.
In 2010, Malekpour was sentenced to death for “blasphemy,” but the sentence was overturned a year later. In 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison after showing remorse in court.
In August 2019, Malekpour returned to Canada. He escaped while on short-term release from prison. The judiciary acknowledged that he used “illegal ways to leave the country.”
On September 18, 2015, Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and permanent U.S. resident, was detained on his way to the airport after attending a business conference by invite of the Iranian government. He was charged with having deep ties to the U.S. intelligence and military apparatuses by the Revolutionary Guards. On September 20, 2016, Zakka’s lawyer announced that he had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $4.2 million for collaborating against the state. On June 11, 2019, Iran released Zakka following intense negotiations between Lebanese and Iranian officials. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political movement and militia backed by Iran, facilitated as well.
In the picture below, Zakka (left) is on plane bound for Beirut with the Lebanese director general of public security.
Businessman Kamal Foroughi was arrested in May 2011 in Tehran and convicted of spying. The 76 year old had been working as a consultant for the Malaysian national oil and gas company Petronas. His family said that plainclothes officers arrested him at his Tehran apartment and did not show a warrant.
Foroughi was taken to Evin Prison and held in solitary confinement for 18 months. In 2013, he was tried by a revolutionary court and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Seven of those years were for espionage and one year was for possessing alcohol at his home. He denied both charges.
Foroughi’s family has been concerned about Foroughi’s lack of access to medical treatment. In November 2015, however, he was taken to a hospital and received a number of tests. On June 9, 2016, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the European Union was “not aware of any changes regarding the conditions under which he is held in prison.” She emphasized that the European Union will use every opportunity to raise his case with Iran.
On July 26, 2016, Kamran Foroughi announced that his father Kamal would be released within a week. “We have just had some great news. 76-year-old Grandpa Kamal’s lawyer visited him last Saturday and told him some news from the Judiciary and Prosecutors’ Office that all the relevant parties have agreed and signed for his release.” On Jan. 1, 2017, Foroughi was granted medical leave outside of the hospital. According to his son, the Prosecutor’s office told Foroughi’s lawyer that he would be released on “temporary leave” (medical furlough) by January 12, but was never released.
The following individuals were released as part of a January 2016 prisoner swap that coincided with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The 14 months of secret diplomacy began on the sidelines of nuclear talks between the United States and Iran. A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was also released by Iran, but U.S. officials said he was not part of the prisoner exchange.
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014, and charged with espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” In a press conference on October 11, 2015, Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei confirmed that Rezaian had been found guilty but did not provide details on his sentence or the specific charges on which he was convicted.
Amir Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He was charged with espionage, waging war against God, and corrupting the earth. In January 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the first American to receive the death sentence in Iran since the revolution. But in March 2012, a retrial overturned the espionage conviction and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Rev. Saeed Abedini was detained on July 28, 2012, and initially imprisoned in September 2012. He had been in Iran to visit family and construct orphanages in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held on January 22, 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, reportedly for “undermining national security.”
Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, a former California-based carpet seller and F.B.I. consultant, was arrested in May 2015 by Iranian intelligence agents when he tried to leave the country. His lawyer said his arrest had been “the result of a misunderstanding.” He reportedly opted to stay in Iran immediately following his release.
On December 7, 2015, Matthew Trevithick, an American student studying Farsi At Tehran University, was arrested and accused of trying to overthrow the Iranian government. He denied the charges and was placed in solitary confinement for 29 days. He was finally released on January 16, 2016, after 40 days in Evin Prison.
Died in Custody
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, during a visit to Kish Island. Initial reports indicated that he was researching a cigarette smuggling case as a private investigator. “He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,” the State Department said in 2007. Iran has denied knowing the status or location of Levinson, who will turn 70 in 2018.
Levinson’s family first received evidence that he was alive in November 2010. In a 54-second video, Levinson asked for a U.S. government response to his captors' demands, which have not been publicized. In March 2011, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that new information indicated that Levinson was being held in Southwest Asia, without specifying any particular countries. His unidentified captors sent a set of photographs to his family the following month. Levinson, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, held a sign bearing a different message in each photo. “This is the result of 30 years serving for USA,” one read. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released a statement he had taped a year earlier.
In 2013, the Associated Press reported that Levinson had been working on a private contract for U.S. intelligence. In late 2013, the family acknowledged that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work for the CIA. Levinson served in the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for 28 years, where he focused on investigating organized crime in Russia. He retired from the FBI in 1998 and began working as a private investigator. He has seven children.
In January 2016, following a prisoner swap that coincided with implementation of the nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran agreed to deepen coordination in finding Levinson. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later clarified that the government had reason to believe that Levinson is no longer in Iran, and had thought so for several years.
In March 2017, the White House issued a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance. “The Trump Administration remains unwavering in our commitment to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home,” it said. Also in March, Levinson’s family filed a lawsuit against Iran in a federal court.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to meet with the family of Robert Levinson during questions at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 14, 2017. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) asked for Tillerson’s commitment during the Committee’s review of the State Department’s budget for the next fiscal year.
On July 11, 2017, a bi-partisan delegation of lawmakers, led by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) published a letter to President Trump, which calls upon the President to “re-engage” with Iran over Levinson. “Bob’s return is an urgent humanitarian issue,” the letter states. “It is critical that the United States maintain pressure on Iran to see that he is returned as soon as possible.” In March 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the 12th anniversary of Levin’s capture. He called on Iran to honors its commitment to help locate and recover him.
In October 2019, Iran acknowledged that Levison had an ongoing case at court in Tehran. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said Iran responded to an inquiry by Levinson’s family made in 2016. “According to the statement of Tehran’s Justice Department, Mr. Robert Alan Levinson has an ongoing case in the Public Prosecution and Revolutionary Court of Tehran,” the U.N. body reported. Iran later clarified that an open case on Levinson “was a missing person” matter and not a sign that Levinson was detained and prosecuted by Tehran.
On November 21, 2019, ABC News reported that Levinson’s family had what appeared to be Iranian government documents suggesting that Levinson was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents on Kish Island. The two-pages were obtained by the Levinson family in 2010. They revealed Levinson’s arrest was made after a “judicial order” by military prosecutor Hojatol-Islam Bahrami. “He is here using the cover of a tourist while conducting various meetings, taking pictures and gathering information,” an Iranian counterintelligence officer reported in the file.
Another document revealed that a military commander at Kish Air Base, where Levinson was allegedly held, asked for instruction after Levinson’s health deteriorated, and he went into a coma. “A doctor examined him and he was diagnosed to have diabetes and noted that he is not in a good condition and ordered to transfer him to a hospital,” said Colonel Mohammad Reza Jalali. “In regard to the sensitivity and importance of this matter and the accused, please give us the necessary orders that should be taken in this regard.” The documents did not detail any action that followed.
"We have always believed that someone on Kish Island made a horrible mistake in arresting Bob -- which is confirmed by these documents. Now is the time for Iranian authorities to do what they know is right and send this wonderful husband, father and grandfather home to us," said Levinson’s wife, Christine.
On March 9, 2020, a U.S. federal judge held Iran responsible for Levinson’s “hostage taking and torture” and entered a default judgment because Iran did not respond to the lawsuit. The family sought more than $1.5 billion in damages.
On March 25, the wife and children of Levinson announced “with aching hearts” that U.S. officials informed them that he had died in Iranian custody. Levinson had been on a rogue CIA mission when he disappeared on Kish Island. He was the longest held hostage in U.S. history.
Garrett Nada, managing editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, along with Nicholas Cappuccino and Maana Azar-Chehr, research assistants at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and John Caves, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, contributed to this roundup.