Friday, 24 January 2020

Iranian Kidnappers

The Times reports another disturbing case of kidnapping by the Iranian regime which is similar to the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian, woman who has been held on trumped-up spying charges since 2016.

British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert reveals her ordeal in Iranian jail

Cambridge-educated lecturer smuggles out letters

By Lucy Fisher - TheTimes

Kylie Moore-Gilbert accused Iranian officials of playing an “awful game” with her and said she was suffering serious psychological problems while being detained - EPA

A British-Australian academic jailed in Tehran has written of feeling “abandoned and forgotten” and claimed that the Iranians tried to recruit her as a spy, in letters smuggled out of her cell.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 while at an educational conference and was convicted of espionage.

A cache of ten letters, understood to have been written by her in crude Farsi between June and December last year, were secretly sneaked out of Evin jail and passed, via an intermediary who translated them, to The Times. The British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been held in Evin prison since her arrest in 2016 over spying allegations that she denies.

In her letters Dr Moore-Gilbert, who was educated at Cambridge, begged to leave the most restrictive prison unit where she has served periods in solitary confinement and detailed the privations that she has suffered while incarcerated.

The letters are variously addressed to three individuals: a man named Mr Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr Ghaderi and Mr Hosseini, who are thought to be mid-ranking officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Dr Moore-Gilbert referred to meetings with these men and it appears they have influenced her treatment in prison, including gaining her access to books. Her section of the prison is run by the IRGC, while her case is managed by the judiciary.

Accusing the corps of “playing an awful game with me”, she described being shown two conflicting sentences — one outlining 13 months’ imprisonment and the other a decade-long term.

In a letter written last July she said: “I’m taking psychiatric medications, but these 10 months that I have spent here have gravely damaged my mental health. I am still denied phone calls and visitations, and I am afraid that my mental and emotional state may further deteriorate if I remain in this extremely restrictive detention ward.”

In August she wrote that her health has deteriorated significantly. “In the past month I have been to the special care at ‘Baghiatollah Hospital’ twice and the prison infirmary six times,” the letters state. “I think I am in the midst of a serious psychological problem.” The same month she threatened to embark on a hunger strike and said she would refuse her medication.

Elsewhere, she described having insufficient funds in her prison account to pay for personal care items, medicine and food, explaining she had allergies that meant she could not eat the ordinary prison meals. She said that “kind cellmates” had stepped in on several occasions to help to buy her necessities. A copy of a letter she had sent to her Iranian case manager stated her “official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of IRGC”.

She said: “I am not a spy. I have never been a spy and I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country.” Dr Moore-Gilbert repeatedly emphasised her innocence, stating that she had been the victim of “fabrications and trumped-up accusations”. Last night pressure was heaped on the British and Australian governments to step up their diplomatic efforts to secure the freedom of Dr Moore-Gilbert and other citizens jailed in Iran.

Tulip Siddiq, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, said: “This is another harrowing example of government allowing innocent British citizens to languish in Iran. Both governments should be working to do more to get these women home.”

The Australian embassy was barred from making a consular visit to Dr Moore-Gilbert during the six-month period covered in her letters, but a representative was permitted to see her last month and then again last week, it is understood.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said: “We remain extremely concerned about the welfare of British dual nationals detained in Iran. The prime minister raised these concerns with President Rouhani on January 9, and the foreign secretary did so with foreign minister Zarif on January 6.”

The Australian foreign and trade ministry declined to comment. The Times attempted to reach Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family and the Iranian embassy in London for comment.

The psychological strain of solitary confinement in Iran’s most notorious prison appears to have taken its toll on Dr Moore-Gilbert. On top of enduring the “extremely restrictive detention ward” known as 2-A in Evin jail in Tehran, she says that she has also fought suspected mind games by her captors.

The source who produced the translation said that the letters were written in rudimentary Farsi, were strewn with grammatical errors and had probably been composed using a dictionary. It is thought that Dr Moore-Gilbert, who was fluent in Arabic, taught herself some of the basics of the language during her detention.

Her access to books has not been straightforward, the letters say. She was denied a stack that were ordered for her by the Australian embassy in Iran, prompting her to plead for help last June.

“My case manager has taken the books hostage in order to put psychological pressure on me,” she wrote. “These books belong to the embassy and the judge has explicitly ordered that they should be given to me (the same goes for an English copy of the Koran, which DOES exist inside Ward A-2 — I know).”

She added: “Please help me retrieve these books from the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], and please don’t listen to the excuses and lies of my ‘case expert’.

“In addition, in the past three months I have only had one four-minute phone call with my family. The judge has allowed me phone calls as well, but I was still denied phone calls.”

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, feared she was being manipulated with conflicting verdicts on her jail term after her July conviction for spying.

In a letter dated November 22, she said: “Today I was shown two different appeal decisions: one indicating a 13-month sentence, and the other confirming my initial verdict of ten years. My case manager said that the 13-months decision was ‘fake’, and was an illegal attempt by my lawyer and my ambassador to free me from prison. On the other hand the security officer at Ward 2-A told me that the 13-months appeal decision had been relayed through official channels to them.”

She added: “How is it possible for this to have been faked, and how is it possible that two very different appeal decisions were delivered to 2-A detention centre?!

“I am an innocent victim. I have suffered 14 months in this temporary detention centre without any justification, and my tolerance for such a game is really low at the moment.”

There is little information in the public sphere about Dr Moore-Gilbert’s early life, but it has been reported that she grew up in Bathurst in New South Wales. She read Middle Eastern studies as an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was awarded a master’s.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with daughter Gabriella, is also being held at Evin jail - PA

Contemporaries recalled her fondly and said she was “extremely studious”. Her former flatmate told The Times yesterday: “I remember her as being down to earth, friendly and softly spoken. She liked keeping fit.”

Siobhan Hynes, 31, who lived with Dr Moore-Gilbert in 2012 and 2013 after meeting via a group of mature students, said: “She was always warm to me despite how stressful the course could be.

“We stayed in touch until she disappeared off social media. I now know that’s because of what happened in Iran . . . I’m really worried about her.”

Her academic work focused on revolutions, protest movements and activism in the Middle East, including links to Shia Islam — subjects seen as highly sensitive in Iran. Her visit 16 months ago was prompted by an invitation from a university, reports said.

Her colleagues in Melbourne insist that she was an academic — not a spy.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Iran uses crises to get what it wants

By Catherine Philp - The Times

Iran’s practice of hostage diplomacy began within months of the Islamic Revolution when 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days inside the US embassy in Tehran.

While it became a Republican Party article of faith that Iran released the hostages out of fear of the new President Reagan, the reality is that the crisis got Tehran what it wanted.

A deal brokered by Algeria handed Iran concessions from Washington that included relief from sanctions, the release of frozen Iranian assets and the establishment of a special tribunal to settle cases between the two enemies outside of the US courts.

Iran’s hostage diplomacy continues to this day, with its victims overwhelmingly Iranian dual nationals.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter arrested in 2014 on espionage charges, was released the day sanctions on Iran were lifted after the historic nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.

His release was not a reward but a quid pro quo in an accompanying prisoner swap. The United States gave clemency to seven Iranians held for sanctions violations in return for Mr Rezaian and two other US-Iranian nationals.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the most prominent of British-Iranian hostage, has been repeatedly told that her case is linked to the payment of a debt Britain owes to Tehran for an arms deal cancelled after the 1979 revolution.

The Foreign Office says it does not recognise the connection but has acknowledged that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being used by Tehran as a diplomatic chess-piece.

Two Australian travel bloggers imprisoned for flying a drone near an Iranian military bases were freed last October in an apparent prisoner swap, after an Iranian student wanted by the US for sanctions busting was released from jail in Australia and flown home to Iran.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested last year that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be freed in exchange for another Iranian woman awaiting US extradition from Australia.

Last year, the UK took the unprecedented step of warning dual British-Iranian nationals not to travel to Iran for fear they could become the next victims of Iranian hostage diplomacy.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who has campaigned tirelessly for her release, said it was high time that the UK called out Iran’s hostage diplomacy for what it was.

“The failure to set red lines against Iran’s hostage taking, the governments’ reluctance to call it what it is, or to take responsibility for protecting their citizens for fear of upsetting the JCPOA is how we have ended up here — with British citizens left languishing in solitary for 18 months, with even an ambassador as fair game for arrest,” he warned.

“The international community needs to reaffirm that hostage taking has no place in diplomacy. And there needs to be clear accountability and a cost for those who practise it. Otherwise we are on the path to a new Middle Ages.”

Iranian Kidnappers (09/12/16)

Hassan Rouhani - Twitter

The Politics Home web site reports on the arrest and detention of a British-Iranian woman (Nazanin Zachary-Ratcliffe) who has, somewhat implausibly, been accused of spying and trying to overthrow the Iranian regime while in Iran on a family visit with her two-year-old child.

Sounds like something you would expect from the Peoples' Republic of North Korea and its barmy leader Kim Jong-un, yet the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani studied at Glasgow Caledonian University, my former alma mater as well. 


Husband of jailed British-Iranian woman in Tehran hits out at Foreign Office

By Sebastian Whale - Politics Home

The husband of a woman jailed in Iran on charges of spying against the state has said Britain is not doing enough to secure her release.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall - Credit: PA Images

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation who has dual British and Iranian citizenship, was sentenced to five-years in prison in September on charges of using a “spy network” to overthrow the Iranian regime.

Theresa May raised her situation in her first face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly that same month, while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said her case was an “utmost priority”, but failed to call for her release.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent six weeks in solitary confinement after being arrested at Tehran airport on 3 April while she was returning from a holiday with her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella.

Gabriella has since been unable to return home to the UK and to her father Richard Ratcliffe. She is currently staying with her grandparents in Iran after having her passport taken.

Mr Ratcliffe told the Times: “Actions speak louder than words. The authorities have not bothered to visit Nazanin in prison or Gabriella despite the fact other countries have managed it.

“I haven’t heard any public criticism of the Iranians for what they have put my wife through or any outright calls for her release.”

The Times reports that Mr Johnson did not confirm or deny that a long running argument over an arms deal was behind Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention.

Iran claims that Britain owes it around £400m for not completing an arms deal signed with Shah Pahlavi before the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Britain reportedly delivered 185 of the 1,500 Chieftain tanks that Iran purchased, but paused deliveries after the Shah was overthrown.

A European court ruling in 2010 ordered the UK to repay the debt.

“I don’t think the Foreign Office has my wife’s or daughter’s best interest at heart, it is clear there is something else going on and that has been a shock,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

“The Foreign Office is in regular contact with the Iranian government at all levels,” Mr Johnson said.

“It remains a matter that is of the utmost priority for this government.”

Iran has also recently indicted other dual nationals Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian professor, and Siamak Namazi, an American-Iranian businessman.

More than 800,000 people have signed a petition – created by Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard – calling for her release.

New President (18/06/13)

So the Iranian people have spoken and - despite all of the gerrymandering involved - the voters elected a 'moderate' candidate in Hassan Rouhani - decisively rejected the man favoured by the religious establishment, Saeed Jalili.

Just imagine what might happen in Iran if the people had a truly free vote - and the ability to vote for any candidate of their choosing instead of a carefully selected all male slate - vetted by a Guardian Council which is appointed by the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khameni. 

The turnout was impressive at 72% and  Hassan Rouhani won an overall majority on the first ballot with 18,613,329 votes - or 51% of the total votes cast - easily beating all of his rivals.  

Mr Rouhani claims to have a link with Scotland, or Glasgow to be precise, and says he attended Glasgow College of Technology many years ago - before it became Glasgow Caledonian University.

By a strange coincidence, I went there too - so maybe I've actually met him, maybe I should drop him a note and see if I can get an interview with the new Iranian President - on the basis of our shared past.

Now that would be cool.  

The election results

Hassan Rouhani: 18,613,329

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf: 6,077,292 

Saeed Jalili: 4,168,946

Mohsen Rezai: 3,884,412

Ali Akbar Velayati: 2,268,753

Mohammad Gharazi: 446,015

Votes cast: 36,704,156

Many people wore Mr Rouhani's election colour of purple as they took to the streets.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets after the results were announced on Saturday, many wearing Mr Rouhani's election colour of purple, but others dressed in the green of the reformist movement.

Hassan Rouhani is regarded as a religious moderate and is fluent in English, German, French, Russian and Arabic.