On 11 August, an Iranian-British lawyer was sentenced to ten years in jail for alleged spying in Iran. The judiciary spokesperson announced that Shahram Shirkhani had been convicted and sentenced together with Iranian-Austrian citizen Masud Mosaheb.
At a press conference, Gholamhossein Esmaili, the Iranian judiciary spokesperson, said that Mr Shirkhani and Mr Mosaheb were two of “five Iranians who were spying for foreign intelligence services” to be arrested over the past few months but did not give any details of the other three prisoners. Iran does not recognise dual citizenship.
Why were Shirkhani and Mosaheb arrested?
Mr Shirkhani was a founding partner of an international law firm in Tehran and was teaching at the Islamic Azad University when he was arrested. Gholamhossein Esmaili, the Iranian judiciary spokesperson, claimed that Mr Shirkhani had tried to recruit Iranian officials for MI6 and passed on classified information about the central bank and defence ministry contracts.
The 73-year-old Mosaheb was the chairman of the Iran-Austrian Friendship Society and is accused of being connected to German and Israeli intelligence and for providing “foreigners with information on military, nuclear, nanotechnology, and health-care projects.” Austria’s Kurier newspaper reported that he had been detained in January 2019 while leading a delegation to Iran for a medicine project.
The latest dual citizens to be arrested in Iran
Mr Shirkhani is the latest British dual citizen or person with links to Britain to be arrested in what their relatives and British officials have described as an Iranian state policy of hostage-taking. The British Foreign Office advise all dual national citizens against travelling to Iran.
Apart from Mr Shirkhani and Mr Mosaheb, there are at least 10 dual and foreign nationals known to be imprisoned in Iran according to the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. Another fellow Austrian-Iranian imprisoned in Iran is businessman Kamran Ghaderi, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence. He was the CEO of an Austrian IT management and consulting company and was on a routine business trip before he was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport in January 2016. The last report on his status identified that he suffered ill health from a tumour on his leg.
British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after a family visit. She was sentenced to five years in jail but has been temporarily released because of Covid-19. Aras Amiri, a UK resident who worked for the British Council in London, was sentenced to ten years for alleged spying in 2018.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 after attending an academic conference, at which she was invited to speak.
Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist was reportedly arrested on espionage charges by agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran in June 2019. On 16 May 2020, Ms Adelkhah was sentenced to six years in prison.
Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is an Iranian-born Swedish scientist, physician and expert in emergency disaster medicine who has been detained in Evin Prison since his arrest in April 2016. He was sentenced to death for espionage charges based on a forced confession in August 2017. Since his incarceration, his health has dramatically worsened as recently reported by retired Harvard University Professor Fredrick Buckle.
British-Iranian Anoush Ashoori, a retired engineer, was arrested in 2017 and later sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for allegedly spying for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. He is also being held in Evin prison where he shares a cell with Mr Shirkhani and Mr Mosaheb.
Covid-19 in Evin prison
The International Observatory of Human Rights recently spoke to Mr Ashoori’s wife about the conditions in Evin prison.
In an interview with Voice of America on 11 August, the wife of a jailed Iranian teachers union leader said her husband and five other political prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in Evin prison and been transferred to rooms where they cannot maintain social distance. Mrs Abdi cited her husband as saying that he and the other five dissidents were among a total of 12 prisoners who tested positive for the coronavirus in Evin’s Ward 8 after undergoing a first round of tests last week.
Despite the fact that many of the imprisoned dual citizens have serious health issues only two – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Aras Amiri – were temporarily released when Iran furloughed more than 100,000 prisoners out of concern for Covid-19.
For more information about Covid-19 and the dual citizens imprisoned in Iran read IOHR’s recent report.