US and Europe must fight to free Iranian hostages

US and Europe must fight to free Iranian hostages

An undated handout image released by the Free Nazanin campaign in London shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (L) posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella. (AFP)

There has been deep disagreement between the EU and the US when it comes to what policies ought to be pursued toward the Iranian regime. Several European countries, including France, the UK and Germany, are opposed to Washington’s determination to impose maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic.
The Europeans first opposed the White House decision to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. They have also been opposed to the economic and political sanctions that the Trump administration has leveled on Tehran. These include sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, oil and gas exports, financial and banking systems, and the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Although there seems to be several important reasons for the disagreement between the EU and the US on Iran, there exists one common interest for the old transatlantic partners: Releasing the European and American hostages being kept in Iran’s notorious prisons, such as Evin in Tehran.
The American citizens held as political prisoners in Iran include US Navy veteran Michael White, Xiyue Wang — a graduate student at Princeton University who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the charge of spying — and Iranian-Americans Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Neyssari, and Baquer and Siamak Namazi. Another foreign citizen detained in Iran’s Evin Prison is the British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. In addition, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, about whom a “proof of life” video from 2010 was released in 2011, is still missing in Iran.

The EU ought to join the US in leveling appropriate economic and political sanctions against Iran.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

With no due process in Iran’s courts, these prisoners have been consistently denied access to a lawyer or medical care, and kept in solitary confinement. They are also held in extremely difficult conditions. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has described saying goodbye to her child: “Sometimes when I come back from the visit with Gabriella, after saying goodbye to her, I feel as if I cannot live without her. I want to go back and hold her. She kisses me so hard. It is hard to say goodbye to her. She blows kisses all the way as she goes up the stairs, and everyone stands there watching.”
In 2017, two UN human rights experts called on Iran to release some foreign prisoners, including Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “We consider that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated. These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law,” they said.
The conditions of the American and Europeans prisoners continue to deteriorate and their legal rights have been completely ignored.
To help pressure Iran to free these captives, the Democratic and Republican parties in the US and conservative and liberal parties in Europe can pass bipartisan legislation. As Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote this month: “The United States cannot rest until every single American hostage held by Iran has been brought home safely… At this very moment, (unjustly imprisoned) Americans are spending yet another day away from their families, friends, and the safety of American soil.”
McCaul also introduced the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which would impose sanctions on those Iranian authorities involved in the unlawful detention and imprisonment of foreign nationals. In a bipartisan act, the US House of Representatives passed the legislation. Now, the Senate must act and also pass it to send a robust message to the Iranian leaders that human rights violations such as these will not be tolerated.
The EU ought to join the US in leveling appropriate economic and political sanctions against Iran to pressure the regime into agreeing to release the hostages and halt all human rights abuses. The transatlantic powers must make it clear to the Iranian authorities that, aside from their unacceptable nuclear and ballistic missile build-up, they will also not stand for the capture, torture and imprisonment of innocent civilians.
If the EU joins the US in using actions rather than words, perhaps the captives and hostages who endure such unspeakable hardships could be free to resume the lives they deserve. And perhaps this could free the world from Iran’s egregious human rights violations.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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