Iran: An Unsafe Country for Dual Nationals

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This article was originally published on the Deutsche Welle website on January 19, 2019. You can read the full article (in persian) and access additional information by following this link.

The Islamic Republic’s security approach to dual nationals, as well as the actions of the Revolutionary Guards in arresting “dual nationals” and “foreign citizens” in recent years, shows that Iran is an unsafe country for “dual nationals.”

Last week, Nazanin Zaghari, an Iranian-British citizen, along with Narges Mohammadi, the spokesperson for the Center for Human Rights Defenders, went on a three-day hunger strike due to the lack of attention to her medical condition. Simultaneously, the British Foreign Office summoned the Islamic Republic’s ambassador in protest of Nazanin Zaghari’s situation.

The British Foreign Secretary, after meeting with the Islamic Republic’s ambassador, called the continued imprisonment of Ms. Zaghari “unacceptable” on Twitter and considered the behavior of the Islamic Republic’s officials as “trampling on human rights principles.”

However, Iran’s ambassador to Britain has said that the campaign for Nazanin Zaghari’s freedom or London’s intervention will not help her release.
Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor, also responded to the British Foreign Secretary’s statements, saying: “Nazanin Zaghari’s charges are serious, and the claim that the English government has recently made is not true, and we hope they will refrain from these exaggerations.”

One day after the start of the hunger strike, it appears that prison officials agreed to Ms. Zaghari’s requests for access to medical treatment outside the prison, and she stopped her hunger strike.

The security treatment of “dual nationals”

Part of the diplomatic tensions of the Islamic Republic stems from the security, and indeed costly, view of dual nationals, which is sometimes accompanied by domestic disputes and criticisms.

Relations between Iran and Canada had calmed down after years during Mohammad Khatami’s government, but the arrest of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian citizen, in 2003 caused relations between the two countries to become tense again.

Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who had traveled to Iran to report, was arrested while photographing the families of imprisoned students outside Evin Prison, at the insistence of Tehran’s then-prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi. Ms. Kazemi lost her life while in the custody of the Ministry of Intelligence.

She is the only dual national who has died in prison. Initially, the forensic doctor’s report cited the cause of death as a “hard object hitting her head,” but the sixth parliament formed a special committee to investigate the real cause of Ms. Kazemi’s death.
Fateme Rakei, a representative of the sixth parliament, said about Zahra Kazemi’s case: “Judge Mortazavi, during a call with Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Media, summoned him to the prosecutor’s office and asked him to sign a typed letter stating that ‘the cause of Zahra Kazemi’s death was a brain stroke.'”

Mohsen Armin, a representative of the sixth parliament, emphasized at the time in his pre-agenda speech: “I know Judge Mortazavi is not at a level where he can take such actions without support, but these arbitrary and irresponsible acts will certainly not remain at this level if there is silence and tolerance.”

The investigation committee on Zahra Kazemi’s murder introduced Mortazavi, Tehran’s then-prosecutor, as the prime suspect in this case, and some representatives even called for his dismissal, but due to the support that the leader of the Islamic Republic had for Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran’s then-prosecutor, the Zahra Kazemi murder case was declared closed.

Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American researcher who had traveled to Iran to visit her mother in April 2007, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence. The Ministry of Intelligence named Ms. Esfandiari’s charges as “attempting to overthrow the regime and establish and manage the Middle East program of the Wilson Center in America.” Haleh Esfandiari was released on a 300 million Tomans bail in August of the same year.

Two years later, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cited the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari as one of the reasons for the dismissal of Mohseni Ejehi, the then Minister of Intelligence, in the final days of the ninth government.

Ahmadinejad said: “Mohseni Ejehi did not act well in the Haleh Esfandiari case, and I told him, why are you behaving in a way that you are ridiculed? You have taken a 70-year-old woman and say she wants to start a velvet revolution.”

The disagreement over the arrest of “dual nationals” was not only present in the reformist government, and Ahmadinejad’s government, which was close to the conservatives, also had differences of opinion with security institutions regarding the arrest of dual nationals.

The government’s disagreements with security institutions, even the Ministry of Intelligence, which is considered part of the government, indicate that this institution only follows the policies and orders of the leader of the Islamic Republic.

Dispute between the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization

Before the formation of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization, dual nationals or foreign citizens were arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence, but now with both security institutions active in this area, disagreements and conflicts between these security institutions have also been added to this field.

This disagreement between security institutions took on a more serious form during Rouhani’s government and reached its peak; it is no longer limited to travelers or specific citizens, but its scope has expanded to include dual-nationality government managers.

The case of Dari Esfahani is one of the most contentious issues between these two security institutions. Dari Esfahani was one of the nuclear negotiation team members who worked as a financial and banking expert with the nuclear negotiation team.

Dari Esfahani received the “Third Degree Service Medal” from Rouhani after the end of the nuclear negotiations for his services but was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization on charges of “espionage” in August 2016.

Mahmoud Alavi, the Minister of Intelligence, emphasized that “from the perspective of the Anti-Espionage Deputy of this ministry, which is the authority for determining issues related to espionage, Dari Esfahani has not committed espionage.”

Although the Ministry of Intelligence, as the reference institution, insists that Dari Esfahani has not committed espionage, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Salavati, sentenced Dari Esfahani to 5 years in prison without regard to the opinion of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Karimi Ghodousi, a hardline parliamentarian who opposes the nuclear deal, aired a documentary about the nuclear negotiation team in an open session of the parliament on September 2 of this year, in which part of it included Dari Esfahani’s confessions.

Pezeshkian, a reformist parliamentarian, reacted to the airing of this documentary, saying: “The Ministry of Intelligence does not accept the clip broadcast by Karimi Ghodousi, but this documentary, titled ‘Toronto 521,’ was published by Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, on the same day.”

Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the CEO of Bank Melli Iran during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s time, was one of the dual-nationality managers that security institutions failed to arrest. Khavari was sentenced to 30 years in prison by the Revolutionary Court for participating in a “3,000 billion Toman embezzlement.”

Regarding Khavari’s exit, the former CEO of Bank Melli Iran, there are still many ambiguities, and judicial and security institutions blame each other for how Mahmoud Reza Khavari left. But what is clear is that Khavari managed to escape with the support of individuals in security and judicial institutions.

Mohammad Jahromi, the former head of Export Bank and another defendant in the “3,000 billion Toman embezzlement” case, in response to the question, “How do you think Khavari escaped?” said: “You should ask Mohseni Ejehi.” Jahromi has repeatedly indirectly accused Mohseni Ejehi of letting Khavari escape. He was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to pay 8 million Tomans as a substitute for imprisonment in June 2016.

Nasser Seraj, the judge handling the “3,000 billion” corruption case, said after Khavari’s escape from the country: “There were certainly hands at work to let Khavari escape. On September 11, 2011, Mr. Khavari, the head of the National Bank, had requested to leave the country for England on a mission, and on September 20, in a letter numbered 578669, his mission abroad was approved.

Prohibition of Appointing Dual-Nationality Managers

Although the financial corruption of dual-nationality managers occurred during Ahmadinejad’s government, the representatives of the eighth and ninth parliaments, which were mostly controlled by hardliners and conservatives, did not propose the “Prohibition of Appointing Dual-Nationality Managers” bill.

From the perspective of supporters of Hassan Rouhani’s government, the hardline representatives of the current parliament, led by Javad Karimi Ghodousi, a hardline representative from Mashhad who has a history of membership in the eighth and ninth parliaments, proposed this bill in the National Security Commission of the parliament to weaken Rouhani’s government.

Mahmoud Alavi, the Minister of Intelligence, reacted to the prohibition of appointing dual-nationality managers in 2016, saying: “We have no dual-nationality officials, and a green card is not a nationality.”

Alavi also emphasized: “Unfortunately, various scenarios have been prepared by opponents to weaken the government, and the issue of dual nationals is one of them.”

Despite the statements of the Minister of Intelligence, the hardline representatives of the parliament took the “Prohibition of Appointing Dual-Nationality Managers” bill to the National Security Commission, although the commission did not approve it.

“Dual Nationals” Have No Security Margin

In recent days, a documentary titled “Out of Sight 2” was broadcast on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s television. This documentary was about the arrest of dual-nationality officials and foreign citizens who have been detained by Iranian security agencies.

Two weeks ago, a clipped video of Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, speaking about the “2009 incidents” was released on social media, and a few days later, the Ofogh channel broadcast the documentary “Out of Sight 2,” focusing on the topics of “infiltration” and “dual nationals.”

The documentary delves into the reasons for the arrest of “Siamak and Baquer Namazi,” Iranian-American citizens, “Nizar Zakka,” a Lebanese-American citizen, “Homa Hoodfar,” an Iranian-Canadian citizen, and “Nazanin Zaghari,” an Iranian-British citizen, who have been detained by the Revolutionary Guards in recent years.

After Mr. Khamenei’s speech in 2015 and his emphasis on the issue of “enemy infiltration,” the arrest of “dual nationals” and “foreign citizens” intensified. “Siamak and Baquer Namazi” and “Nizar Zakka” were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization under the “infiltration” project.

The Namazis had close political and economic ties with the government and conducted many liaisons with Iranian and American officials for the nuclear deal. Also, Nizar Zakka was invited to Iran by Shahindokht Molaverdi, the then Vice President for Women’s Affairs, to give a speech, and their arrest by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence was considered an action to weaken Rouhani’s government.

The Islamic Republic’s security approach to dual nationals, as well as the Revolutionary Guards’ actions in arresting “dual nationals” and “foreign citizens” in recent years, indicate that Iran is an unsafe country for “dual nationals.”

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