Why is Iran taking more hostages?
The Iranian regime’s hostage-taking is alarming, and the international community must act immediately. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence recently detained two Europeans. The Iranian authorities claimed that they arrested the two Europeans because they were planning to cause “chaos, social disorder and instability.” Iran’s judiciary spokesperson, Zabihollah Khodaian, also stated that a Swedish-Iranian national, Ahmadreza Djalali, had received a death sentence and would be executed by May 21, 2022. He was previously arrested on a charge of spying for the Iranian government’s main rival in the region, Israel.
The Iranian regime is known to bring vague charges against detainees, including “national security crimes,” “moharebeh” (enmity against God), “ifsad fil arz” (sowing corruption) and “baghi” (armed rebellion). As Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, told the UN General Assembly: “There are extensive, vague and arbitrary grounds in Iran for imposing the death sentence, which quickly can turn this punishment into a political tool ... In addition, the structural flaws of the justice system are so deep and at odds with the notion of rule of law that one can barely speak of a justice system. The entrenched flaws in law and in the administration of the death penalty in Iran mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life.”
There are several reasons why the Iranian regime is increasing its hostage-taking at this critical time. First of all, the regime most likely wants to gain more leverage, more concessions, and to obtain the upper hand in the nuclear talks between Tehran and P5+1 (the UK, France, the US, China and Russia, plus Germany).
The nuclear talks, held in Vienna, have been dragging on for nearly a year; the regime is desperate to revive the nuclear deal and have economic sanctions lifted. It is facing a huge budget deficit, the unemployment rate and inflation are high, and Tehran is finding it extremely difficult to fund its network of militia and terror groups across the Middle East. From the regime’s perspective, detaining Europeans nationals could put pressure on the EU and the US to accept Tehran’s demands and seal the nuclear deal as soon as possible. It is worth noting that the detention of the two Europeans came immediately before the EU envoy and coordinator of the nuclear talks, Enrique Mora, met Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, in Tehran.
One of the important demands by Iranian leaders has been to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its elite branch, the Quds Force, from the terrorist list.
The second reason behind the hostage-taking is most likely linked to the trial of the Iranian diplomat Hamid Nouri. He is the first Iranian diplomat of the regime to be tried in a foreign country.
The Swedish authorities arrested Nouri in November 2019, and he is believed to have been involved in a 1988 massacre. In July, after 21 months of investigation, prosecutors at Stockholm District Court issued an indictment against him. His trial began the following month and a verdict is expected this year. Over the course of the investigations and trial, members and supporters of the opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, who were reportedly witnesses to Nouri’s alleged crimes, gave evidence to the Swedish authorities, including providing significant documentation. Most of the 35 plaintiffs in Nouri’s case were supporters of the opposition. Many claim to have witnessed him in the so-called “death corridor” at Gohardasht Prison, where prisoners were lined up to be taken to the execution hall.
It is incumbent on the international community to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its increasing pattern of hostage-taking.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The Iranian regime has been humiliated and enraged by the trial of one of its diplomats; that is why Iran’s Foreign Ministry recently summoned the Swedish envoy to protest what he calls “the baseless and fabricated accusations that the Swedish prosecutor made against Iran during Nouri’s court case.”
It is important to point out that this kind of hostage-taking by the Iranian regime is not something new, but it is systematic and a core pillar of its rogue foreign policy. It is used to strengthen the Iranian regime’s hold on power and ensure the survival of the clerical establishment. More fundamentally, the regime holds foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and obtain geopolitical and financial gains. It also uses hostages to swap prisoners. The Iranian regime has learned that holding foreigners hostage can bring in revenue and increase its political leverage against the West.
In conclusion, it is incumbent on the international community to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its increasing pattern of hostage-taking.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh