After US prisoner swap, a dozen Westerners remain captive in Iran

Rights groups say imprisonment of Western nationals is a ploy designed by regime to extract concessions from rival powers

This image obtained from the Iranian news agency IRNA on October 16, 2022, shows a fire truck in front of Evin Prison, in the northwest of the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP)
A fire truck in front of the Evin prison, in the northwest of the Iranian capital Tehran, on October 16, 2022. (Iranian News Agency (IRNA) via AFP/File)

PARIS, France — A dozen Western passport holders remain detained in Iran, even after the release on Monday of five US citizens in a swap deal with Tehran.

Rights groups say those held are innocent of any crime and are being held as part of a deliberate policy of hostage-taking by Iran to extract concessions from foreign governments.

Earlier, the five Americans including Siamak Namazi, a businessman held since 2015, were released by Tehran and were flying home via Doha. The deal also sees the release of five Iranians held by the United States and the unfreezing of Iranian funds totaling $6 billion by US ally South Korea.

Tehran insists all the foreigners held have been subject to proper judicial process. Activists fear there may be more cases, as governments usually advise families not to publicize arrests in the hope a solution can be found without publicity.


British-Iranian labor rights activist Mehran Raoof was arrested in October 2020, and is being held in solitary confinement, Amnesty International says.


German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, in her late 60s, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021, after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020. She is being held in Evin prison.

Nahid Taghavi, who was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020. (Twitter screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen, was captured by Iran in August 2020, while traveling through the UAE, according to his family. He was charged with terrorism over a lethal 2008 bombing. His family has denounced the accusations.

A US resident, he was sentenced to death in February, a verdict that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. His family fears he could be executed any day.

A demonstrator holds a picture of Iranian-German Jamshid Sharmahd (left), who has been sentenced to death in Iran, with his daughter Gazelle Sharmahd, during a demonstration for his release in front of the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, on July 31, 2023. (INA FASSBENDER/AFP)


French teachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris, were detained in May 2022, while sightseeing in Iran. They are accused of spying.

A supporter holds a placard bearing a portrait of French teacher Cecile Kohler, detained with her partner Jacques Paris (right) in Iran, during a rally in their support in Paris, France, on May 14, 2023. (Thomas SAMSON/AFP)

Banking consultant Louis Arnaud was arrested in September 2022 while visiting Iran. Described as a passionate traveler, he is jailed in Evin Prison in “extremely harsh” detention conditions, according to his parents.

Another French citizen is confirmed by Paris to be held but that person’s identity has never been revealed.

Demonstrators hold portraits of French detainees in Iran, Cecile Kohler (left) and Louis Arnaud (center), during a protest in support of French nationals detained by Iranian government, at the ‘Esplanade du Trocadero’ in Paris, France, on January 28, 2023. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/File)

French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was released earlier this year, but has still been unable to leave the country.


Iran in June released two Austrian citizens held for several years, but a third Austrian, who has not been named, was sentenced earlier this year to seven and a half years in jail in Iran for spying, according to Vienna.


Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, a resident of Sweden, was arrested during a visit to Iran in April 2016, and sentenced to death in 2017, on charges of spying for Israel’s Mossad.

He was granted Swedish citizenship while in jail. His hanging was postponed, but his family says he remains on death row.

File: Swedish-Iranian researcher Ahmadreza Djalali is seen in Barcelona, Spain, in 2014, before Iran sentenced Djalali to death for allegedly spying for Israel. (Vida Mehrannia via AP)

Habib Chaab, an Iranian-Swedish dissident, disappeared during a visit to Turkey in October 2020.

He turned up in Iran accused of being a leading figure in an Arab separatist group and of perpetrating bomb attacks. He was sentenced to death and executed on May 6, 2023.

Habib Chaab is seen on Iranian state TV in November 2020, confessing to an attack on a military parade two years earlier. (Video screenshot)

Sweden and the European Union this month said Johan Floderus, 33, who works for the EU diplomatic service, was arrested in April 2022 at Tehran’s airport, as he was returning home from a trip with friends.

His detention was not officially disclosed until it was first reported by the New York Times this September.

Swedish national Johan Floderus, during a video call from Iranian prison on August 7, 2023, released by his family in September. (Courtesy)


Spanish citizen and football fan Santiago Sanchez Cogedor has been in detention in Iran since October. He was arrested while trying to walk to Qatar for the football World Cup.

Protestors hold a portrait of Santiago Sanchez Cogedor, during a rally for his freedom, near the Iranian embassy in Madrid, Spain, on December 18, 2022, as he had been jailed by Iranian authorities since October 2022. (THOMAS COEX/AFP)

United States

According to Washington, the release of the five US citizens on Monday means there are no more US nationals detained in Iran.

However, the family of Virginia-based Iranian Shahab Dalili, who was arrested in 2016 while visiting Tehran, has expressed dismay that the US resident was not included in the swap, as have the family of Jamshid Sharmahd.

Meanwhile, former FBI agent Robert Levinson vanished in 2007 on a trip to Iran. The US has accused Iran of abducting and detaining him and being responsible for his “probable” death.

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