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Iran: Arrest Shows Peril for Dual Nationals

No Way Back for Those Who Lived Abroad


The Iranian authorities' arrest of a former BBC reporter on February 3, 2016, shows the risk dual nationals face if they choose to live in Iran. The family of Bahman Daroshafahi, who has been working as a translator, has not been able to find out about why he has been arrested, or by whom, or what charges he might be facing.

Daroshafahi, a dual British-Iranian national who has worked as a journalist for the BBC Persian television channel and website, returned to Iran in September 2014, after living in the United Kingdom for several years. When he arrived at the airport, the authorities seized his passport. Over the next two months, Intelligence Ministry officials periodically interrogated Daroshafahi about his activities as a journalist, but at the time did not file any charges against him.

"Iran's unaccountable security agencies run roughshod over President Hassan Rouhani's promises of a more inclusive Iran," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. "This pattern of arresting Iranians who were simply excercising their freedoms of expression and association while living abroad seriously undermines the notion that Iran actually welcomes having its own citizens return home."

Plainclothes officers from an unidentified security agency arrested Daroshafahi at a friend's house on the morning of February 3, 2015. The officers took Daroshafahi to his parents' house, showed him an arrest warrant, and proceeded to confiscate his digital devices. When his parents asked the officers for an explanation and to identify themselves, they refused to respond.

Daroshafahi's friends reported that his Telegram messaging application account was active for several hours after his arrest and, in at least one instance, authorities used the account to engage in conversations with a contact.

Daroshafahi's family went to Evin Prison in Tehran on February 6, where they managed to speak with an official on the telephone who confirmed that their son was being held there. The official told them that he would not be able to contact his family for another week. Two days later, Daroshafahi called his parents and told them he was detained in a "cell" and was being interrogated, but provided no further details about his charges or the identities and affiliations of his interrogator(s).

Iranians who have acquired dual citizenship or have lived outside the country appear to be particular targets for security forces, Human Rights Watch said. Despite repeated calls by President Rouhani encouraging Iranians in the diaspora to return, authorities have arrested and prosecuted several Iranian citizens who have done so.

On October 15, 2015, Iranian authorities arrested Siamak Namazi, a dual Iranian-American citizen and the head of strategic planning at the Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum who was visiting his family in Tehran. He remains in detention, but the charges against him are unclear.

Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist who was recently released in a swap of prisoners between Iran and the United States, spent 18 months in a section of Evin Prison controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and was convicted and sentenced to a term unknown even to him.

Mostafa Azizi, a documentary filmmaker and Canadian permanent resident, was arrested on February 25, 2015, while visiting his family in Iran. Branch 15 of Tehran's revolutionary court sentenced Azizi, who remains in prison, to eight years for "acting against national security," "insulting the Supreme Leader," and "propaganda against the state." On May 10, 2014, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization arrested Seraj Mirdamadi, who had worked as a journalist for the Radio Zamaneh website when he lived in France. He had returned to Iran in 2013, and had been subjected to several rounds of interrogation before his arrest.

On July 27, 2014, Branch 15 of Tehran's revolutionary court sentenced Mirdamadi to six years in prison for "assembly and collusion against national security" and "propaganda against the state" for his journalistic activities. He is in of Evin Prison. Mirdamadi's father told Roozonline website that Judge Abolghasem Salavati at Branch 15 of Tehran's revolutionary court said during the trial that he was going to make an example of Mirdamadi so that others would not think about returning.

In April 2014, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization's officers arrested Hossein Nouraninejad, a journalist and member of the Participation Front political party, two months after he returned from Australia, where he had been in graduate school. In June 2014, a revolutionary court sentenced Nournajinejad, who had been released on bail after two months of solitary confinement, to six years in prison on charges of "propaganda against the state" and "assembly and collusion against national security." A court of appeal reduced Nournainejad's sentence to one year. Nouraninejad is in Evin Prison.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.