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European dual-nationals and Iranian hostage diplomacy

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Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has treated dual-citizens and foreign nationals as bargaining chips in its negotiations with the West, imprisoning individuals on spurious charges while using their detainment as diplomatic leverage, writes United Against Nuclear Iran.

Tehran refuses to recognise dual citizenship, acknowledging instead only the Iranian identity of the individuals in question. As such, dual-citizens are regularly denied consular assistance from their alternative home nation. In reality, the Iranian regime is not blind to dual-citizenship at all. Rather, these unfortunate individuals are targeted by the regime precisely because of their dual-citizenship, which is seen as something that can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Western countries.

The international response to Iran’s systematic use of hostage diplomacy differs from country to country, even from detainee to detainee.

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However, although Iran’s detention of dual-citizens is nothing new, the conscious decision of certain European governments and institutions to look the other way is both novel and troubling.

In what follows, we take a look at how different European governments and non-state bodies have responded to the imprisonment of their fellow citizens and colleagues.

Where some countries perform well, coming to the defence of their citizens and taking proactive measures to secure their release, others are inexcusably silent on the matter. In certain cases, non-state bodies have taken far more decisive action than have the government of the same country.

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Thankfully, there are some signs that European powers are belatedly running out of patience with Iran.

In September 2020, France, Germany and the UK, collectively known as the E3, summoned their respective Iranian ambassadors in a coordinated diplomatic protest against Tehran’s detention of dual nationals and its treatment of political prisoners. As the first coordinated action of European powers against Iran’s systematic abuse of dual-nationals, this was a highly promising development.

What our comparative analysis makes clear, however, is that until European states and the EU adopt a common and collective approach to dealing with Iran’s hostage diplomacy there is little hope that Tehran will alter its behaviour.

Observance of the basic norms of international diplomacy and human rights must be the precondition for European engagement with Iran, not its long term goal.

It is time for European leaders to put its values and its citizens before its blind commitment to maintaining dialogue with a morally bankrupt regime.

Belgium/Sweden

Prisoner(s): Ahmad Reza Djalali

Sentence: Death

Justification for imprisonment: Espionage on behalf of a hostile government (Israel) and ‘corruption on earth’.

Dr Ahmad Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian disaster medicine expert who taught at universities in Belgium and Sweden, was sentenced to death on charges of 'co-operation with a hostile government' following a manifestly unfair trial in October 2017. He remains in prison and faces execution.

The difference between how Belgium and Swedish academia have responded to Dr. Djalali’s plight could not be more stark.

In Belgium, every university in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders has ceased all academic cooperation with Iranian universities in order to show their support for Dr. Djalali and signal disgust at their colleague’s mistreatment. Caroline Pauwels, rector of Brussels Free University, noted that the decision to sever ties with Iranian academia had “the wholehearted support of the academic community in Belgium”.

No such moral backlash obtained in Swedish academies.

In the same month that the Flemish Council decried Dr. Djalali’s abuse, six Swedish universities (Boras, Halmstad, KTH University, Linnaeus, Lund, and Malmo) conducted a tour of Iran to discuss academic cooperation. The delegation ‘welcomed’ Iran’s proposal for a ‘Day of Iran and Sweden Science’ to take place the following year.

In December 2018, the University of Boras signed an agreement with the University of Mazandaran in northern Iran. In January 2019, the Swedish Ambassador in Tehran reportedly signed an MOU with the President of Sharif University of Technology to boost “academic and industrial co-operation” between Swedish and Iranian universities.

Sweden’s political leaders mirror the country’s universities in their apathetic response to Dr. Djalali's fate. In almost five years since his initial arrest, Sweden has failed to secure consular support for Dr Djalali. Not without cause, Dr. Djalali believes the Swedish government has abandoned him. Meanwhile, his sister claims she has been given the cold shoulder from the Foreign Ministry, an argument backed up by opposition leader Lars Adaktusson, who has claimed that Sweden is abandoning Djalali by continuing to treat the regime with kid gloves.

Meanwhile, the Belgian government actually attempted to save the life of the researcher. In January 2018, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders called for his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to repeal Dr. Djalali’s sentence.

Sweden’s quietude is all the more remarkable when one considers Dr. Djalali’s ordeal is regularly highlighted on social media by leading humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International, the Committee for Concerned Scientists, and Scholars at Risk.

Austria

Prisoner(s): Kamran Ghaderi & Massud Mossaheb

Sentence: 10 years each

Justification for imprisonment: Espionage on behalf of a hostile government

Kamran Ghaderi, CEO of an Austria-based IT management and consulting company, was detained during a business trip to Iran in January 2016. Massud Mossaheb, an elderly Iranian-Austrian dual national who had previously established the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society (ÖIG) in 1991, was arrested in January 2019 travelling to Iran with a delegation from MedAustron, an Austrian radiation therapy and research firm seeking to establish a center in Iran.

Austrian-Iranian citizens both, Ghaderi and Mossaheb are currently being held in Iran's notorious Evin prison, where they have undergone untold hardship and suffering since their initial arrests.

Ghaderi's physical and mental health has severely deteriorated throughout his detention. He was denied appropriate medical treatment, despite having a tumour in his leg. Ghaderi's “confession” was extracted through torture and intimidation, including being wrongfully informed that his mother and brother were also imprisoned and that his cooperation would secure their release. In the almost half decade since his arrest, the Austrian government has failed to provide Ghaderi with consular support.

Similarly, Mossaheb’s advanced age has made his time in Evin prison excruciating. He has been placed in solitary confinement for weeks at a time. The International Observatory of Human Rights, Mossaheb believes he is quite sick and badly needs medical attention. The Austrian government is in touch with Mossaheb’s family and has tried to use “silent diplomacy” to get Mossaheb released, to no avail. He has yet to be granted Austrian consular assistance. The UN has consistently called for the release of both men, citing their particular vulnerability to Covid-19, which is believed to be rife in Iran’s prison system.

Unlike the Swedish government, Austrian leaders seem to be making the right moves.

In July of 2019, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg contacted his Iranian counterpart, the supposedly moderate Mohammad Javad Zarif, seeking his help to free Mossaheb, while the same month, an Austrian foreign ministry spokesman said his government had insisted—unsuccessfully—that Tehran release Mossaheb on the bases of humanitarianism and his age. President Alexander Van der Bellen also held talks with Iran’s President Rohani over the release of both prisoners.

Despite these significant interventions, the Austrian government has been no more successful than other governments in pressuring Iran to release its citizens.

France

Country: France

Prisoner(s): Fariba Adelkhah & Roland Marchal

Sentence: 6 years

Justification for imprisonment: Espionage

Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist and academic employed by Sciences Po, was arrested on trumped-up charges of “propaganda against the system” and “colluding to commit acts against national security” in July 2019. Shortly after Adelkhah’s arrest, her colleague and partner Roland Marchal was accused of “colluding to commit acts against national security” and similarly detained.

Upon receiving news of the arrests, Sciences Po immediately implemented a series of actions in close collaboration with the Crisis and Support Centre of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE).

The prisoners’ home university worked with the French Foreign Ministry to provide legal assistance and apply political pressure. With the help of the MEAE, the university ensured that both Adelkhah and Marchal received the assistance of a highly experienced Iranian lawyer. The lawyer was approved by the Iranian judicial authorities, a move which is far from usual, ensuring that both prisoners received a defence that was both watertight and officially authorised.

Although Marchal was subsequently released, Adelkhah remains in Evin prison and has yet to be granted any French consular assistance. The numerous protests which have taken place at Science Po over Adelkhah’s continued detention attest to the ongoing interest in her case and the widespread disgust of colleagues at her treatment.

While Emmanuel Macron has called for Adelkhah’s release and has referred to her detention as “intolerable”, the French President resolutely refuses to weigh Iran’s treatment of French citizens in the same scales as that which dictates his ongoing support for the JCPOA.

According to her lawyer, Fariba was allowed on temporary release in early October due to her medical condition. She is currently in Tehran with her family and is obliged to wear an electronic bracelet.

United Kingdom

Prisoner(s): Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Sentence: 5 years (currently under house arrest)

Justification for imprisonment: "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime" and for “running a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran"

Possibly Iran’s most high-profile dual national prisoner, the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016. Although given temporary furlough due to Covid-19, she remains under house arrest in her parents’ home in Tehran, where she is forced to wear an electronic tag and is subject to unscheduled visits by IRC officers.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have campaigned tirelessly for clemency from the regime, especially as her health rapidly deteriorated under the strain of life in Evin prison.

Despite having less than a year of her sentence remaining, mounting health concerns and pressure from the UK government, the Islamic Republic continues to refuse to allow an early release for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Indeed, just as she approaches freedom, the regime has laid a second set of charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe in September. On Monday 2 November, she was subjected to yet another dubious court appearance, which received widespread cross party criticism in the United Kingdom. Her trial has been adjourned indefinitely and her freedom remains entirely dependent on the whims of the regime.

Following this, her MP, Labour's Tulip Siddiq, has warned that “burying our heads in the sand is costing my constituent her life”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release is allegedly dependent on a £450 million debt, dating back to the days of the Shah, for a cancelled arms deal. In the past, the UK government has refused to acknowledge this debt. In September 2020, however, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace formally stated he was actively seeking to pay the debt to Iran to help secure the release of dual-nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

This is an incredible development from the UK, who not only have admitted their debt to Iran, but are willing to engage in hostage negotiations with the regime.

However, this week, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary noted no one in the House of Parliament accepted the “legitimacy of any direct link between the debt and the arbitrary detention of dual-nationals”. Furthermore, while the UK continues to examine options to resolve the arms debt, a court hearing over the alleged debt has been postponed until 2021, apparently at Iran’s request.

The UK government has in fact made a number of unusual moves in an attempt to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, not always in her best interest.

In November 2017, then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, made an ill-advised comment in the House of Commons that Nazanin was “simply teaching people journalism,” a claim manifestly denied by her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Nazanin was returned to court following Johnson's comments and the statement was cited in evidence against her.

While Johnson has apologised for his remarks, the damage is arguably done.

In a more promising development, in March 2019 former Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, took the very unusual step of granting Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection – a move that raises her case from a consular matter to the level of a dispute between the two states.

Unlike other European countries, the UK government actually understands the danger Iran poses to its dual-citizens. In May 2019 UK upgraded its travel advice to British-Iranian dual nationals, for the first time advising against all travel to Iran. The advice also urged Iranian nationals living in the UK to exercise caution if they decide to travel to Iran.

United Against Nuclear Iran is a not-for-profit, transatlantic advocacy group founded in 2008 that seeks to heighten awareness of the danger the Iranian regime poses to the world.

It is led by an Advisory Board of outstanding figures representing all sectors of the US and EU, including former Ambassador to the UN Mark D. Wallace, Middle East expert Ambassador Dennis Ross, and former Head of the UK’s MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove.

UANI works to ensure the economic and diplomatic isolation of the Iranian regime in order to compel Iran to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons programme, support for terrorism and human rights violations.

Belgium

Commission approves €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Brussels-Capital region affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Belgian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The public support was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, which goes under the name 'la prime Relance', the aid will take the form of direct grants. Eligible beneficiaries are companies of all sizes active in the following sectors: nightclubs, restaurants and cafés (‘ReCa') and some of their suppliers, events, culture, tourism, sport and passenger transport. In order to be eligible, companies must have been registered in the Central Bank for Enterprises (‘la Banque-Carrefour des Enterprises' ) by 31 December 2020. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64775 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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European Commission

Macro-financial assistance: EU disburses €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has carried out another round of disbursements under the €3 billion macro-financial assistance package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners. The programme is a concrete demonstration of the EU's solidarity with its partners to help respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has disbursed €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova. This support is provided through loans at very favourable rates. With these disbursements, the EU has successfully completed five out of the 10 MFA programmes in the €3 billion COVID-19 MFA package, and disbursed the first tranches to all partners. The Commission continues to work closely with the rest of its MFA partners on the timely implementation of the agreed policy programmes. 

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Finland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €2.1 billion in grants to Finland under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The financing provided by the RRF will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Finland's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a significant role in enabling Finland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Finnish plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Finland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Finland's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Finland's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 50% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support climate objectives. Finland has announced an ambitious target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The reforms and investments included in the plan will make an important contribution to Finland achieving this objective. The plan addresses each of the highest emitting sectors in turn, namely energy, housing, industry and transport. It includes reforms to phase out the use of coal in energy production, changes to taxation to favour cleaner technologies, and a reform of the Waste Act with increased targets for recycling and reuse. On the investment side, the plan will finance clean energy technologies and related infrastructure, industry decarbonisation, the replacement of oil boilers with low- or zero-carbon heating systems and private and public charging points for electric cars.

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 27% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. The plan includes measures to improve high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural areas, support the digitalisation of businesses and the public sector, enhance digital skills of the workforce and support the development of key technologies such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Finland's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Finland's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Finland in recent years.

It contains a broad set of reform measures to raise the employment rate and strengthen the functioning of the labour market, ranging from the transformation of Public Employment Services to improving and facilitating access to social and healthcare services. The plan includes specific measures to provide integration support for young people and people with partial work-capacity. The plan also includes measures to strengthen the effective supervision and enforcement of Finland's anti-money laundering framework.

The plan represents a comprehensive and balanced response to the economic and social situation of Finland, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Finland's plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects, which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, Finland has proposed to provide €161 million to investments in new energy technologies and €60m toward the decarbonisation of industrial processes to support the green transition. To support the digital transition, the plan will invest €50m in the rollout of rapid broadband services and €93m to support the development of digital skills as part of continuous learning and labour market reforms.

The Commission's assessment finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harms the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The Commission considers that the controls systems put in place by Finland are adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan. I am proud that NextGenerationEU will make a significant contribution to support Finland's goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. The plan will also help bolster Finland's reputation for excellence in innovation with support for the development of new technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics. We will stand with Finland throughout the plan's implementation to ensure that the reforms and investments it contains are fully delivered.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The Commission has today given its green light for Finland's recovery and resilience plan, which will set the country on a greener and more digital path as it recovers from the crisis. This plan will help Finland to meet its ambitious carbon-neutrality target by 2035, with reforms and investments that will reduce carbon emissions from energy production, housing, industry and transport. We welcome its focus on high-speed connectivity, particularly for sparsely populated areas to help maintain their economic activity, and on digitalising smaller businesses and the public sector. With reforms to boost employment and strengthen the labour market, Finland's plan will promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth once it is put into effect.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan is strongly focused on the green transition. No less than 50% of its total allocation is set to support climate objectives, helping to speed the country towards its ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan also contains an array of measures to boost Finland's already strong digital competitiveness. I particularly welcome the Finnish plan's strong social elements, with measures to raise the employment rate, tackle youth unemployment and facilitate access to social and healthcare services.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €2.1bn in grants to Finland under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €271m to Finland in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Finland.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Finland's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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