The families of imprisoned and formerly imprisoned dual and foreign nationals called for international action to free their family members last week. The family members gathered close to the 74th U.N General Assembly as it took place in New York last week and announced via press conference the launch of the Alliance of Families Against State Hostage Taking.
Family members of prisoners Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, Iranian-British Nazanin Ratcliffe and American Xiyue Wang were represented by brave family members at the press conference in New York. They emphasised the importance of the alliance and the risks they faced by speaking out.
Member of the alliance, Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak has been serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran since 2015 said at the press conference:
“It’s important to really underscore that we [families] have really gone out on a limb here…We don’t know the consequences of speaking out publicly.”
“This is not an American, a British, or an Iranian problem,” Namazi added. “This is becoming endemic and becoming extremely important to view as an international problem and bring attention to [Iran’s] horrific behavior.”
Whilst advocating for the freedom of their loved ones, Namazi and Richard Ratcliffe attempted to get a meeting with the Iranian Mission to the UN on 24 September
Ali Rezaian, whose brother Jason was held in Iran for nearly 2 years and then released in 2016, said Iran is holding many more dual and foreign nationals than is publicly known.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of people who are being held there illegally, for no reason,”
“When I was working on this, they said don’t call them hostages, it will make them mad,” Rezaian added.
“Well, they held my brother for 18 months and that’s what he was.”
There are currently an estimated 14 foreign and dual-nationals detained in Iran including; Australians Mark Firkin, Jolie King and Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Kameel Ahmady (Iran-UK), Anousheh Ashouri (UK-Iran), Fariba Adelkhah (Iran-France), Siamak Namazi (US-Iran), Morad Tahbaz (UK-US-Iran), Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden), Kamal Foroughi (UK-Iran), Kamran Ghaderi (Austria-Iran), Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani (Canada-Iran), Xiyue Wang (China-US) and Nizar Zakka (US-Lebanon).
The US has responded by taking steps to restrict Iranian officials on 27 September the US denied permission for Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to visit a colleague receiving treatment in a New York City hospital. Zarif is on very tight travel restrictions while in New York on official business attending the UN General Assembly.
A US State department representative said on 28 September,
“Iran has wrongfully detained several U.S. citizens for years, to the pain of their families and friends they cannot freely visit. We have relayed to the Iranian mission that the travel request will be granted if Iran releases a U.S. citizen.
Iran criticized the United States Saturday for what it called an “inhumane” decision. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also previously stated that they believe it is that it’s America’s turn to release an Iranian citizen after his country released Lebanese and permanent U.S. resident Nizar Zakka in June. On 25 September, President Trump issued a via ban on senior Iranian government officials and their family members, blocking them from entering to travel, study or work.
The narrative of hostage bargaining and brinkmanship between the US and Iran continues as US – Iranian relations become increasingly hostile. But the right of individuals to not be detained arbitrarily must be addressed by the international community.
The International Observatory of Human Rights has campaigned extensively for Iran to improve its human rights record and are a strong advocate for prisoners such as Nazanin Ratcliffe and Ahmadreza Djalali to be released. Last year, IOHR worked with the families of Ahmadreza Djalali and Saeed Malekpour to seek support for their release and organised a panel discussion in the British Parliament to address the mass imprisonment of dual nationals in Iran.