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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.

EU

Last chance to register for EAPM EU Presidency Conference

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Hello, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – we are looking forward very much to the 9th EU Presidency Conference, under the auspices of the Portuguese EU Presidency, which takes place online on Monday, 8 March from 9-16h CET – the aim of the game is all about establishing a health policy framework across the EU, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

EU Presidency Conference
The EAPM conference will feature a wide range of keynote speakers from across the EU, including Christine Chomienne, vice chairwoman of the Mission Board Cancer at the European Commission and professor of Cellular Biology at the Université deParis, France, MEP Pernille Weiss, and Daria Julkowska, co-ordinator of the European Joint Programme on Rare Diseases.

In terms of the themes undertaken by the conference, these will include propelling health care through an effective governance framework, and update on the Europe Beating Cancer Plan, and the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics.

Health-care systems are not always ready to respond to the opportunities. The disruptive nature of personalised care challenges traditional patterns of thinking. Practices, presumptions and even prejudices that date from before the millennium resist a 21st century approach to healthcare.

The conference will be seeking to move towards establishing a policy framework, in order to realize the potential of personalised health care, and not only in Europe: Europe’s engagement in global research and scientific enterprise can benefit the population of the entire planet.

As far as the conference is concerned, it is absolutely clear that it is necessary to formulate a personalised healthcare-centred strategy involving decision makers and regulators in the arena of public health, to enable the EU and member states to contribute to integrating personalised medicine into clinical practicewhile enabling much-greater access for patients.

For the opening session, which is entitled propelling health care through an effective governance framework, at the start of the 2020s, wide-ranging changes are under way in European society and governance, with a new European Commission, a freshly-elected European Parliament, and a growing conviction among Europe’s policymakers that people must be at the centre of any successful and sustainable strategy. The ambition of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a Europe that ‘must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world’. And Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides acknowledges that “European citizens expect the peace of mind that comes with access to health care… and protection against epidemics and diseases.”

The second session deals with the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the conference will examine the new technologies, research and innovation that the Cancer Plan is taking as a starting point, in terms of setting out a new EU approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care.

Europe's Beating Cancer Plan will be supported by actions spanning across policy areas from employment, education, social policy and equality, through marketing, agriculture, energy, the environment and climate, to transport, cohesion policy, and taxation. A total of €4 billion is being earmarked for actions addressing cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme. Expectations have been heightened by European strategists’ attachment to three key ingredients for courageous transformation: incentives, innovation, and investment. These reflect the pre-conditions for boosting health care into higher levels of efficiency, where the value of personalised medicine approaches can be fully appreciated and make its full contribution to Europe’s citizens.

This discussion of personalised health-care depicts a Europe where many chances for improvement are not yet fully being taken up. But this is not merely a catalogue of deficiencies. The variations and inefficiencies it presents are an argument for triggering radical rethinking, and for making the most of personalised health care. It highlights the endorsement of incentives, innovation, and investment by a new breed of Europe’s leaders. And it focuses on the ambitions that would support the development of personalised health care, diagnostics and medicines.

Everyone - from newborn babies to the elderly, from sufferers from chronic disease to acute cancer patients, and from health ministries to funding agencies - stands to gain. The price is nothing more than a shift in policy. The prize – in terms of value to the economy and to lives - is priceless.

As far as the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics is concerned, the conference will also deal with this important subject in a latter session - today, biomarkers have immense scientific and potential clinical value in the diagnostic testing pipeline. They span the broad diagnostic sector from the genome to the phenome over various ‘-ome’ levels and have been used since the earliest days of the application of molecular biology. A biomarker signature is capable of revealing specific biological traits or measurable physiological changes, according to a disease status, physiological or pathological condition, or after drug application.

An understanding of biomarkers ties in to the existing new understanding of epidemiology, precision medicine, and pharmacogenomics, the deployment of technologies such as genomics, single cell sequencing, microbiome analysis and transcriptomics, and the opportunities arising from bioinformatics and digital innovations, which can be transformative for individual patients.

As novel gene-based diagnostics proliferate, they will be increasingly important to drug development, approval and later in clinical practice. There are numerous promising singular biomarkers or more complex multiple biomarker signatures available, the most important of which are currently used for assessing drug development, patient stratification or measuring the efficacy of treatment in therapeutic medicine. Clearly there is a translation problem to transfer the results from molecular diagnostics research to drug development and finally clinical practice. In future, biomarkers and their interaction on various levels will increase the molecular and cellular knowledge of disease and drug mechanisms.

To register for the conference, click here and click here for the agenda.

Von der Leyen proposes EU-wide health passport

The European Commission will present legislation for a digital health pass before the end of March. The announcement follows a virtual meeting between EU leaders last week, where Greece and Austria urged other states to adopt vaccination passports in order to restart travel and tourism. However, others remain on the fence due to concerns over vaccine efficacy and discrimination. Following the discussion of vaccines and travel restrictions by EU leaders during the European Council video conference, the bloc is taking further steps to reintroduce travel across the continent. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet that legislation is being prepared for a ‘Digital Green Pass’. This will serve to provide proof of vaccination, test-results for “those who couldn’t get vaccine yet”, or information on COVID-19 recovery.

Von der Leyen, who has been the Commission’s president since December 2019, said that the digital pass was needed to facilitate Europeans’ lives. The proposal, she said, will be finalized and presented before the end of March.

That is everything for this week from EAPM – remember, registration is still open for the EU Presidency conference but only until the end of today (5 March) – 150 people have already signed up, click here to register and join them, and click here for the agenda. To those who will attend, EAPM looks forward very much to joining them on 8 March – stay safe and well, and have an excellent weekend.

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China

EU ready to take further steps if China amends Hong Kong's electoral laws

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In response to an announcement by the National People's Congress in China that it would deliberate on amending the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the European External Action Service issued a statement saying: "If enacted, such reform would have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for democratic principles and democratically elected-representatives in Hong Kong. It would also run counter to previous electoral reforms in Hong Kong and renege on the commitments enshrined in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law to introduce universal suffrage in the elections of the Chief Executive and Legislative Council.

"The EU calls on the authorities in Beijing to carefully consider the political and economic implications of any decision to reform the electoral system of Hong Kong that would undermine fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principles. As agreed by EU Foreign Ministers, the EU stands ready to take additional steps in response to any further serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, which would be against China’s domestic and international obligations."

A decision can be expected by 11 March.

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Brexit

Fishing firms could go bust over Brexit, MPs told

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British fishing businesses could go bust or move to Europe because of post-Brexit trading disruption, industry figures have warned, writes the BBC.

MPs were told paperwork due to new border controls had proved a "massive problem" and should be moved online.

They also heard extra costs had made it "impossible" for some firms to trade profitably.

Ministers have promised action on disruption, and £23 million for affected firms.

The UK government has also set up a taskforce aiming to resolve problems faced by the industry in Scotland.

The Commons environment committee heard funding could have to continue, and be widened further, to help the sector weather Brexit-related problems.

Outside the EU's single market, British fish exports to Europe are now subject to new customs and veterinary checks which have caused problems at the border.

Martyn Youell, a manager at south-west England fishing company Waterdance, told MPs the industry was facing more than just "teething problems".

"Whilst some things have settled down, some obvious issues, we feel that we remain with at least 80% of the trading difficulties that have been encountered," he said.

"There are some extreme forces operating on the supply chain, and we probably will see some forced consolidation or business failure."

"The exporters we deal with are seriously considering relocating part of their processing business to the EU because of the difficulties we face".

He said the "largely paper-based" forms they now have to fill in had pushed up costs, and called for the UK to work with the EU in moving them online.

'Lot of anger'

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said the problems could lead to smaller firms in particular stopping trading with Europe in the medium term.

She said the annual costs of the new paperwork, between £250,000 and £500,000 per year, were too much for them to sustain.

But she said many "can't see where they could turn" at the moment because travel bans and the Covid pandemic have closed off other markets.

She added there was "a lot of anger" about the design of the government's £23m compensation scheme, which links funds to provable losses due to Brexit.

She said it meant many firms which had "worked through the night" to get shipments ready had not been compensated for extra costs.

Shellfish ban

Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, also criticised the scheme, noting firms that "made massive efforts" didn't qualify.

She also called for ministers to adopt a different approach to persuade the EU to overturn a ban on British exports of some types of live shellfish.

After leaving the EU single market, these exports from all but the highest-grade fishing grounds have to be purified before they can enter the EU market.

The UK government has accused the EU of reneging on a previous commitment such exports could continue with a special certificate.

Ms Horsfall said there had been the "propensity for a bit of a misunderstanding" among either UK or EU officials about the post-Brexit rules.

She urged a "more nuanced approach" from UK ministers in resolving the matter, noting their "bullish" response "perhaps hasn't helped either".

And she said a more "flexible" regime for determining the quality of British fishing waters could provide help to the industry in the long-term.

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