France, Germany and the UK are summoning Iranian ambassadors in a coordinated diplomatic protest against Iran’s detention of dual nationals and its treatment of political prisoners.
The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, was summoned by the Foreign Office on Tuesday to meet senior officials, and the Iranian ambassadors in Paris and Berlin are also being called in this week. A letter handed to Baeidinejad and seen by the Guardian says Iran’s policy of arbitrary detention is seriously undermining its international standing.
It is the first coordinated move by the three countries – known collectively as the E3 – on Iranian human rights abuses and comes amid growing concern that Iranian security forces have decided to step up pressure on detained dual nationals, including by the laying of a second set of charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national jailed in 2016. Revolutionary Guards officers visited her parents’ home this week, where she is living under house arrest, in what her family saw as an attempt to intimidate her.
Within Iran, there has been outcry over the execution of the Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, who was charged with the killing of a security guard during protests in 2018. His execution led to protests from members of Iranian civil society, who warned that his death would not intimidate the regime’s critics.
One of Iran’s most famous political prisoners, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been on hunger strike for more than 40 days, and recently spent some time in hospital due to her weakening condition. She is a lawyer and has defended the right of women not to wear the hijab.
She has said her strike is designed to raise pressure on Iran to free political prisoners and draw attention towards their condition during the coronavirus pandemic.
France is seeking the release of Fariba Adelkah, a highly regarded French-Iranian academic arrested in 2018. She has just been transferred from Evin prison to the Ministry of Intelligence detention centre.
Baeidinejad is understood to have been given a letter setting out Britain’s concern about grave human rights abuses in Iran.
The letter claims British citizens, including dual nationals, are languishing in Iranian prisons, often under harsh conditions and without justification. It argues they have been arbitrarily detained and deserve to be reunited with their families.
The letter also expresses concern about Iran’s continuing persecution of those defending human rights within its borders, as well as the harassment of media and cultural organisations and their staff.
In a clear reference to the execution of Afkari, the three countries assert that all people must have the right and freedom to demonstrate and express their opinion. Iran’s response to protesters has been routinely disproportionate, and often fatal.
The letter goes on to say: “A free and independent media is essential to a functioning society. Cultural organisations, that connect people across borders, benefit all our peoples.”
The letter contains no explicit warning to Iran of practical consequences if the human rights abuses continue, and the E3’s joint continued support for the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 is not being threatened. The US has pulled out of the deal, and now claims it has the right to impose UN sanctions, including a continued conventional arms sales embargo, on Iran. The E3 insists the US has no such legal power.
However, it is self-evident British political support for the nuclear deal is not helped by the damage Iran inflicts on its own international reputation by jailing dual nationals and apparently using them as hostages to win concessions from the west.
The Foreign Office is careful not to describe Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a hostage.
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, pulled out of a planned visit to Europe last week. The Iranian ministry of foreign affairs said the coronavirus crisis, including issues of quarantining, meant the trip had to be cancelled. There had been reports that the German ministry of foreign affairs cancelled the visit due to the execution of Afkari, but that has not been confirmed.
Zarif claims he has no purchase on the release of prisoners, unless it is part of a wider negotiation over prisoner swaps.
A debate has begun recently in Iran about whether political prisoners should be allowed to stand trial in front of a jury in public courts. At present they are tried as security threats mainly in front of a judge in revolutionary courts, which were set up after the 1979 revolution to try people suspected of certain crimes, including trying to overthrow the government and blasphemy.