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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.

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.

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.

Economy

EU approves €2.9 billion in state aid for battery project attracting €9 billion

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The Commission has approved, state aid of up to €2.9 billion in funding for an ‘Important Project of Common European Interest’ (IPCEI) to support research and innovation in the battery value chain. The twelve EU countries involved will provide public funding expected to unlock an additional €9 billion in private investments.

The project, called “European Battery Innovation” was jointly prepared and notified by Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “For those massive innovation challenges for the European economy, the risks can be too big for just one member state or one company to take alone. Today's project is an example of how competition policy works hand in hand with innovation and competitiveness. With significant support also comes responsibility: the public has to benefit from its investment, which is why companies receiving aid have to generate positive spillover effects across the EU.”

When Vestager was asked if companies from outside the EU, such as Tesla, could benefit from this funding she said that this was possible and showed that the EU was committed to open strategic autonomy and welcomes non-EU firms when they have the right projects.

The Vice-President for Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “The Commission has given its green light to a second important project of the common European interest in the field of batteries. Technology is vital for our transition to climate neutrality. The figures show what an enormous undertaking this is. It involves twelve member states from North, South, East and West, injecting up to €2.9 billion euros in state aid in support of 46 projects designed by 42 companies, which in turn will generate three times as much private investment. "

The project will cover the entire battery value chain: extraction of raw materials, design and manufacturing of battery cells, recycling and disposal. It is expected to contribute to the development of a whole set of new technological breakthroughs, including different cell chemistries and novel production processes, and other innovations in the battery value chain, in addition to what will be achieved thanks to the first battery IPCEI.

 

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EU urges AstraZeneca to speed up vaccine deliveries amid 'supply shock'

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The European Union has urged AstraZeneca to find ways to swiftly deliver vaccines after the company announced a large cut in supplies of its COVID-19 shot to the bloc, as news emerged the drugmaker also faced supply problems elsewhere, write and

In a sign of the EU’s frustration - after Pfizer also announced supply delays earlier in January - a senior EU official told Reuters the bloc would in the coming days require pharmaceutical companies to register COVID-19 vaccine exports.

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.

“We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” an EU Commission spokesman said, adding the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call earlier on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Soriot told von der Leyen the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.

News emerged on Monday that the company faces wider supply problems.

Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed. He did not provide figures.

Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.

AstraZeneca declined to comment on global supply issues.

The senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries, a move that could imply the EU fears doses being diverted from Europe to other buyers outside the bloc.

AstraZeneca has received an upfront payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, another official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots..

Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.

“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” AstraZeneca said on Friday.

The site is a viral vectors factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.

Viral vectors are produced in genetically modified living cells that have to be nurtured in bioreactors. The complex procedure requires fine-tuning of various inputs and variables to arrive at consistently high yields.

“The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent,” said EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who is from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The EU called a meeting with AstraZeneca after Friday’s (22 January) announcement to seek further clarification. The meeting started at 1230 CET on Monday.

The EU official involved in the talks with AstraZeneca said expectations were not high for the meeting, in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays.

Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.

EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official involved in the talks did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments. However, the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. “We are not there yet,” the official added.

“AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay,” Liese said.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Jan. 29, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.

($1 = €0.8214)

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Chemicals: EU protects wildlife from negative effects of lead in the environment

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On 25 January, the Commission took firm steps to ensure that wildlife is protected from the negative effects of lead in the environment, by restricting its use in gunshot in or around wetlands. Adopted under the framework of the EU's chemicals regulation, the measure will help to protect the environment by significantly reducing lead pollution while preventing the avoidable death by lead poisoning of around 1 million waterbirds every year. Lead is a highly toxic substance, which released to the environment contaminates both the soil and water.

Every year, 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes of lead are released into wetlands from lead gunshot.  There are affordable alternatives, for example steel gunshots, which currently cost about the same as lead gunshots. The measure adopted today will harmonise and enhance the effectiveness of national legislation limiting the use of lead gunshot in wetlands already in place in 24 member states.

It will start applying in two years' time. The restriction supports the goals of the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability and the Green Deal. It also supports the objectives of the Birds Directive, and is a first concrete deliverable under the new EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. More info here.

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