Rights group says British-Iranian professor held in Tehran

Rights group says British-Iranian professor held in Tehran

Computer scientist and mathematician Abbas Edalat, who has urged West to negotiate with Tehran, is latest dual national detained in country

British-Iranian professor Abbas Edalat. (CC-BY-SA-2.5 Andrej Bauer/Wikipedia
British-Iranian professor Abbas Edalat. (CC-BY-SA-2.5 Andrej Bauer/Wikipedia

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A British-Iranian university professor who actively campaigns against military action targeting his homeland has been detained in Iran by the country’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard, a rights group says, becoming the latest dual national held there since the 2015 nuclear deal.

The British Foreign Office said late Wednesday night it was “urgently seeking information” after the Center for Human Rights in Iran said computer scientist and mathematician Abbas Edalat had been detained.

Iranian state media did not immediately report on Edalat’s case, which isn’t unusual in cases involving dual nationals. It’s unclear what charges he faces, though typically those arrested by the Guard face espionage or security-related charges and closed-door trials where guilty verdicts come down without the opportunity to defend themselves.

Edalat is a professor at Imperial College London. The university did not respond to requests for comment.

Edalat traveled to Iran for an academic workshop and was arrested April 15, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. He refused to post bail Wednesday, arguing he is innocent of the unknown charges and should be freed, the center said. The Guard also raided his home in Tehran.

“Iran’s continued arbitrary arrests of dual nationals without transparency and lack of due process is extremely concerning,” Hadi Ghaemi, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Iranian judiciary and the security establishment, particularly the Revolutionary Guard, are responsible for the well-being of these detainees.”

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)

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Edalat cannot receive consular assistance. A UN panel in September described “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran, which Tehran denied.

Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran say hard-liners in the Islamic Republic’s security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. Iran and Britain have been discussing the possible release of some 400 million pounds held by London since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for a tank purchase that never happened.

A prisoner exchange in January 2016 that freed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans also saw the US make a $400 million cash delivery to Iran the same day. That money too involved undelivered military equipment from the shah’s era, though some US politicians have criticized the delivery as a ransom payment.

Others with ties to the West detained in Iran include Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country while doing doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty. Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a member of Iran’s 2015 nuclear negotiating team, is believed to be serving a five-year sentence on espionage charges. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, also is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter.

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

Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer, a former UNICEF representative who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the US-backed shah, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, recently received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences respectively.

Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail last year after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government.” Shahini is believed to still be in Iran.

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the US government. He was sentenced to 10 years last year on espionage-related charges.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Outside of the classroom, Edalat is an anti-war activist and founded a group called the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran. He previously wrote columns for The Guardian newspaper in Britain, his last in December 2011 saying Britain only wanted to “tighten the diplomatic, economic and military noose around the Islamic Republic.”

“Unjustified sanctions only pave the road to a military attack on Iran,” Edalat wrote. “The West must change course and enter into negotiations in good faith if a catastrophe for the region and the whole world is to be avoided.”

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