Young academic accused of spying imprisoned in Iran for over 700 days | 60 Minutes Australia
US and UK suspect Tehran is keeping their citizens as a pressure tool
Fears over the fate of more than two dozen British and American citizens held in Iranian custody are mounting. US and UK say Tehran is keeping them as pressure tool.
According to the relatives of the prisoners, the terms of their imprisonment may increase as a result of the confrontation between Washington and Tehran over the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani..
Iranian-born British Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe, imprisoned on what the British government calls trumped-up espionage charges, is in a “desperate situation,” says her husband Richard Ratcliffe.
He said in an interview with the BBC: “We are very concerned about what is happening … We have always been a pawn in this game, and we hope that the Prime Minister will make it clear that protecting Nazanin and others in a similar situation is a priority.”.
Ratcliffe said in a recent telephone conversation, 42-year-old Nazanin said that she and about 15 other British and American citizens held in Evin prison in Tehran believe that they will be used as a bargaining chip in the confrontation between the United States. and Iran. “Nazanin was very discouraged by the idea that Iran would now leave her and other prisoners in custody for a full term, if not more,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s like playing poker when the stakes are suddenly very high – too high for anyone to bluff. It is hard for all of us caught between two fires to watch this “.
Zagari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in 2016 when she visited relatives to introduce them to her newborn daughter. At the moment, there are at least five American citizens in Iranian prisons – mostly they are also holders of dual citizenship. Some were detained even before Donald Trump became president.
More than twenty years ago, another American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, went missing in Iran. In June, a Lebanese citizen and US resident Nizar Zakka was released after four years in an Iranian prison. His release was the result of the efforts of Lebanese and American diplomats..
The families of American prisoners are also worried. Joanne White, whose son, Navy veteran Michael White, was imprisoned in Iran last July when he came to visit his girlfriend, told The Associated Press: “He was not safe before, but now his situation is really insecure.” Michael White was found guilty of insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran. According to his mother, he suffers from cancer and recently complained to her that he was starved in prison..
For both the American and British governments, the release of prisoners is one of the key requirements for Iran. Washington and London insist the prisoners are being arrested on trumped-up charges or being held hostage. However, families of prisoners fear that as the crisis escalates, their fates will be in the background..
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tried to reassure them that this was not the case. Speaking on NBC, he said the Trump administration is still making efforts to free Americans in Iranian prisons. “We are continuing to work on this process to bring back all Americans held anywhere in the world, including getting the kleptocrats and theocrats in Iran to return the American hostages. We will never give up this mission, “he assured.
British imprisoned in Iran include businesswoman Anusheh Ashuri, ecologist Morad Tahbaz and social anthropologist Kamel Ahmadi. Also in prison is the British-Australian scientist Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Iran refuses to recognize dual citizenship for its citizens.
Zagari-Ratcliffe’s husband this week called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet with him and the relatives of other prisoners, as well as convey to Trump that “his policies need to be much clearer strategically.” Zagari-Ratcliffe has already served half of her sentence but was denied parole last month.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday called on Iran to release Zagari-Ratcliffe and other British citizens who were imprisoned on false charges, and also condemned Tehran for “heartless treatment” of prisoners.
In October, Australia succeeded in securing the release of two of its citizens, blogger Jolie King and her boyfriend Mark Firkin. Apparently, an agreement was reached on the principle of prisoner exchange, since the Australian authorities released Iranian scientist Reza Dehbashi, who was arrested on suspicion of violating US sanctions. Washington demanded to extradite Dehbashi to the United States. Australians were detained in July for unauthorized use of a drone. King’s relatives said Iran made it clear that she was being held in the interests of prisoner swaps..
Last month, the French government outraged the arrest of two French scientists in Iran, calling for their “immediate release” and “full transparency.”.