IRGC Information security service targets dual nationals in Iran
In 2002, the United States began to increase the flow of news and information into Iran. The Voice of America (VOA) established what later became its Persian News Network (PNN). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA jointly established Radio Farda. It was hoped that their example would encourage Iranians to demand free and fair elections from the Iranian regime. In 2008, the US Congress allocated $60 million for programs to promote democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran.
These efforts, and then-President George W. Bush’s referring to Iran as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ led to increasing paranoia on the part of the regime, and increased activities by Iranian Security agencies . One of the institutions which stepped up repressive efforts at that time was the IRGC's Information security service , which developed in parallel with other internal security agencies. The commanders of the IRGC declared their legal responsibility to protect the Islamic Revolution and, in this regard, considered and consider themselves independent of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
In their increased efforts at repression, the IRGC have focused in particular on targeting Iranian dual nationals, including citizens of the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark and some other European countries. The individuals targeted include academics, Journalists, photographers and think tank analysts. A number of these individuals have been jailed. Iran broadcast their ‘confessions’ in a program called "In the name of Democracy" and forced them to describe their effort in creating the relation between Iranian and American policy makers.
According to the spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, these efforts are part of a program which the IRGC have called the ‘Influence Project’. The claim I that these individuals are seeking to undermine the rule of the Iranian regime through influence operations and espionage activities.
Seyyed Hossein Naghavi, spokesperson of the Iranian parliament's commission on national security and foreign policy and a member of the Front of Islamic Revolution Stability said in an interview with the Islamic consultative assembly news agency; "A dual citizen in Iran can easily use his or her nationality to fulfill his goals and plans, and these individuals do not have the limits of a personwith a single nationality. According to statistics, most of those arrested for espionage in Iran have been dual citizens, which suggests that dual citizenship has become a tool for Western countries to confront our country."
Human Rights Watch has documented and reviewed the cases of 14 dual or foreign nationals whom Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization has arrested since 2014. In a number of cases the courts have charged them with ‘cooperating with a hostile state” without revealing any evidence.
Under article 508 of the Islamic penal code, “any person or group cooperating with hostile states in any shape or form… if not deemed Mohareb [a sentence which involves the death penalty], will be sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison.
Families of dual citizen detainees in Iran are demanding that the visa issue of the children of the senior officials of the Islamic Republic should be used as a lever of pressure on the judiciary's harassment of dual nationals in Iran. The presence of children of some Iranian officials in the United States, especially after the signing of the nuclear deal and the time of the presidential elections of 2016, has been widely featured on social media. In a tweet President Donald Trump noted that "Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians - including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?"
Dual nationals currently incarcerated in Iran include the following individuals
Xiyue Wang, a graduate student in history at Princeton University, convicted and jailed in Iran for being ‘an infiltrating American agent’.
Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American dual national, has been in prison since 2016. He was arrested following a visit to Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of "cooperating with the hostile US government."
Muhammad Baqir Namazi is another incarcerated dual national, who has been a UNICEF official in Iran and was governor of Khuzestan province before the 1979 revolution. He traveled to Iran in order to track the situation of his eldest son, Siamak Namazi, who was arrested in 2016.
Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, a resident of Sweden, was arrested following a visit to Iran and was subsequently sentenced to death on charges of espionage.
The exact number of dual citizen prisoners in Iran is not known.
Aria Law Center Institute in Tehran tracked the second nationality of prisoners in Iran and noted that 19 of them are citizens of the European Union. Three British, one Swedish and three have Danish citizenship. The number of prisoners with US citizenship is 7, one of whom has been held for more than two years, and six others arrested after the exchange of prisoners from both countries in 2016. Nazanin Zaghari, Abbas Edalat and Kamal Forooghi are the names of the three Iranian-British citizens detained in the country.
Western European governments have tended to approach this issue with discretion and through private channels. The Trump Administration rejects this approach and is currently seeking to directly pressure the Iranian government in order to free their citizens held in Iran.
As of now, however, neither approach has produced results and it is likely that the harassment by the Iranian authorities and by the IRGC’s information unit in particular of dual nationals in Iran will continue.