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Iran indicts dual UK, US, Canadian nationals on unknown charges

Foreigner also charged as fears grow Tehran wants all four as bargaining chips in a future prisoner swap

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter, Gabriella, in 2016. (AFP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter, Gabriella, in 2016. (AFP)

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran announced Monday that three dual nationals and a foreigner held in the country have been indicted on unknown charges, part of a series of detentions in the wake of last year’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The four, who have ties to Britain, Canada and the US, all are believed to have been detained by hardliners in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards. The reasons for their arrests remain unclear, though the husband of one of them says his family was told by the Guard she’d be released if the British government agreed to their demands.

According to Iran’s semi-official ISNA and Tasnim news agencies, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi named the four as: Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian retired professor at Montreal’s Concordia University; Siamak Namazi , an Iranian-American businessman who has advocated for closer ties between the two countries and whose father is also held in Tehran; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British woman working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency; and Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who has done work for the American government.

The four were arrested in connection to separate cases over the past year. Family members and representatives of the four say they did nothing wrong.

Dowlatabadi’s statement did not elaborate on the charges. He said another seven people faced charges related to the unrest that surrounded the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, center, appears with his wife Yeganeh Salehi and mother Mary Reazaian in Germany on January 20, 2016, following his release from Iranian custody (screen capture: YouTube)
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, center, appears with his wife Yeganeh Salehi and mother Mary Rezaian in Germany on January 20, 2016, following his release from Iranian custody (screen capture: YouTube)

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities. In previous cases involving dual nationals, like the detention of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, officials initially announced indictments had been handed down without providing specifics. Later, news organizations with close ties to security services offered details of the charges.

Those detained typically face trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, a closed-door tribunal which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government. Rezaian was convicted but later released in January as part of a prisoner swap between Iran and the US.

While Iranian officials have not publicly demanded another swap, analysts have suggested the detainees might be used by hardliners as bargaining chips. Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, said as much in a statement to journalists Monday marking the 100th day of his wife’s detention.

Siamak Namazi is the fourth Iranian-American to be arrested in Tehran. (Screenshot/CBSN)
Siamak Namazi is the fourth Iranian-American to be arrested in Tehran. (Screenshot/CBSN)

Ratcliffe said the Guards told his wife’s family she would be released as long as the British government reached “an agreement” with them. He said they did not elaborate, other than to say it did not involve the recent nuclear deal, which lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its atomic program.

His infant daughter Gabriella also remains in Iran, as authorities seized her passport.

“That the Iranian authorities are willing to hold a mother and baby hostage for domestic politics and as a bargaining chip in their international negotiations shows that they have reached a very dark place,” Ratcliffe said.

Iranian officials in Tehran could not be reached for comment. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Monday’s announcement did not include any mention of Namazi’s father, Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian and UN official in his 80s who is also detained. Also unaccounted for is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission.

Canadian-Iranian anthropologist, Homa Hoodfar, held by Iran in June 2016. (YouTube/International Focus)
Canadian-Iranian anthropologist, Homa Hoodfar, held by Iran in June 2016. (YouTube/International Focus)

The hardline crackdown since the nuclear accord has included the detention and sentencing of Iranian poets, filmmakers, artists and others. Most recently, famed Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli found himself banned from traveling abroad and had his passport seized.

On Monday, Tanavoli told The Associated Press that police had filed a complaint alleging that his work was “disturbing public opinion” and “spreading lies.” The sculptor called the complaint “baseless” and said his lawyer would fight against his travel ban, which prevented him from giving lectures in London.

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