Who are the dual nationals jailed in Iran?

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Evin prison in TehranImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Most of the dual nationals imprisoned by Iran have been held at Tehran's notorious Evin prison

The plight of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arbitrarily detained for almost six years in Iran on spying charges that she strongly denied, focused attention on Iranians with dual nationality or foreign permanent residency being held in the Islamic Republic's prisons.

Iran does not recognise dual nationality, and there are no exact figures on the number of such detainees given the sensitive nature of the information. Some of the most prominent are:

Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden)

Image source, Center for Human Rights in Iran
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Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death in October 2017

The 51-year-old specialist in emergency medicine was arrested in April 2016 while on a business trip from Sweden.

Amnesty International said Djalali was held at Evin prison by intelligence ministry officials for seven months, three of them in solitary confinement, before he was given access to a lawyer.

He alleged that he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, including threats to kill or otherwise harm his children, who live in Sweden, and his mother, who lives in Iran.

In October 2017, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran convicted Djalali of "spreading corruption on Earth" and sentenced him to death. His lawyers said the court relied primarily on evidence obtained under duress and alleged that he was prosecuted solely because of his refusal to use his academic ties in European institutions to spy for Iran.

Two months later, Iranian state television also aired what it said was footage of Djalali confessing that he had spied on Iran's nuclear programme for Israel. It suggested he was responsible for identifying two Iranian nuclear scientists who were killed in bomb attacks in 2010.

In February 2018, Sweden confirmed that it had given Djalali citizenship and demanded that his death sentence not be carried out. He had previously been a permanent resident.

In November 2021, Djalali's wife, Vida Mehran-Nia, said he had been informed by prison authorities that he faced imminent execution. He spent five months in solitary confinement, awaiting execution, until April 2021, when he reportedly was moved to a multi-occupancy cell.

Just over a year later, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said Djalali's death sentence was "final" and was "on the agenda" of authorities.

He also insisted that the case was not linked to the war crimes trial in Sweden of former Iranian judiciary official Hamid Nouri, who was sentenced to life in prison over what prosecutors said was his leading role in the mass executions of Iranian opposition supporters in 1988.

Djalali's wife and human rights groups have said Djalali is a "hostage" who Iran is threatening to execute in an attempt to negotiate a swap for Mr Nouri.

Nahid Taghavi (Iran-Germany)

Image source, Amnesty International
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Nahid Taghavi was an advocate for women's rights in Iran

The 69-year-old retired architect, who is a German-Iranian dual national, was arrested at her apartment in Tehran in October 2020 and accused of "endangering security".

She was placed in solitary confinement at Evin prison and not given access to lawyers, German diplomats or members of her family, according to her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was repeatedly subjected to coercive questioning without the presence of lawyers, according to Amnesty International. Interrogators reportedly asked her about meeting people to discuss women's and labour rights, and possessing literature about those issues.

In August 2021, she was convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran of "forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security" and "spreading propaganda against the system". She was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison.

Taghavi had denied the charges, the first of which was apparently related to a social media account about women's rights, and Amnesty said the trial was "grossly unfair".

Ms Claren wrote on Twitter that her mother "did not commit any crime. Unless freedom of speech, freedom of thought are illegal".

She has said her mother has been denied adequate healthcare by prison and prosecution authorities, despite doctors saying in September 2021 that she needed surgery on her spinal column.

In July 2022, Taghavi was granted urgent medical leave from prison for treatment for back and neck problems. She was sent back to Evin four months later.

A fellow inmate in the prison warned in June 2023 that Taghavi's life was "in danger" following a further 220 days in solitary confinement.

"The pain is so severe that it can be clearly seen on her face. She can barely get out of her bed," a message posted on human rights activist Narges Mohammadi's Instagram account said.

Fariba Adelkhah (Iran-France)

Image source, AFP
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Fariba Adelkhah's research focused on political and social anthropology

The 64-year-old researcher at Sciences-Po university in Paris is a specialist in social anthropology and the political anthropology of post-revolutionary Iran, and has written a number of books.

At the time of her arrest in Tehran in June 2019, she was examining the movement of Shia clerics between Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, and had spent time in the holy city of Qom.

Adelkhah was accused of espionage and other security-related offences.

She protested her innocence and after going on hunger strike, she was admitted to hospital for treatment for severe kidney damage.

Prosecutors dropped the espionage charge before her trial began at the Revolutionary Court in April 2020. The following month, the court sentenced Adelkhah to five years in prison for conspiring against national security and an additional year for propaganda against the establishment.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the sentence and demanded her release.

In October 2020, due to what Sciences-Po called her "health circumstances", Adelkhah was released on bail and allowed to return to her home in Tehran.

However, Iran's judiciary announced in January 2022 that it had returned Adelkhah to prison, accusing her of "knowingly violating the limits of house arrest dozens of times". French President Emmanuel Macron called the decision "entirely arbitrary".

In February 2023, Adelkhah Adelkhah was released from Evin prison after three and a half years in detention.

However, Iranian authorities refused to return her identity papers, making it impossible for her to leave the country or resume her work as a researcher.

Jamshid Sharmahd (Iran-Germany)

Image source, Gazelle Sharmahd
Image caption,
Jamshid Sharmahd with his wife (L) and daughter, Gazelle

Sharmahd, 68, a German citizen who lived in the US, arrived in the United Arab Emirates in July 2020 and was awaiting a connecting flight to India when he disappeared. It is believed that he was kidnapped by Iranian agents in Dubai and then forcibly taken to Iran via Oman.

The following month, Iran's intelligence ministry announced that it had arrested Sharmahd following a "complex operation", without providing any details. It also published a video in which he appeared blindfolded and confessed to various crimes.

In February 2023, Iran's judiciary said Sharmahd had been sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran after being found guilty of "spreading corruption on Earth through planning and leading terror operations".

It alleged that he was the leader of a terrorist group known as Tondar and that he had "planned 23 terror attacks", of which "five were successful", including the 2008 bombing of a mosque in Shiraz in that killed 14 people.

Tondar - which means "thunder" in Persian - is another name of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran (KAI), a little-known US-based opposition group that seeks to restore the monarchy overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

According to Amnesty International, Sharmahd created a website to publish statements from the KAI, including claims of explosions inside Iran. He also read out statements in radio and video broadcasts.

However, he denied his involvement in the attacks, saying he was only a spokesman, and rejected all accusations during his trial.

Amnesty said Sharmahd told his family that he had been tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment in detention, including by being held in prolonged solitary confinement.

He also told them that he had been denied adequate healthcare, with access to medications required for his Parkinson's disease delayed routinely.

In July, Sharmahd's daughter Gazelle told the BBC that he could be executed at any time.

"They're killing him softly in solitary confinement in this death cell. But even if he survives that, they're killing him by hanging him from a crane in public."

Iranians with foreign permanent residency

Shahab Dalili

The 61-year-old retired Iranian merchant navy captain is a US permanent resident.

He has been detained in Iran since April 2016, when he visited Tehran to attend his father's funeral. He was later convicted of "collaborating with a hostile state" and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

His wife - who is a US citizen - broke her silence in March 2022, saying in a video statement that he had been imprisoned unjustly for six years and appealing to President Joe Biden to "bring Shahab home".

In August 2023, his son, Darian, complained that he was not part of a prisoner exchange deal between the US and Iran, which saw five US-Iranian dual nationals released the following month.

"He feels betrayed. He is demoralized. He believes that the US would bring back anyone that they want to bring back," Darian told Reuters news agency.

A US state department spokesman declined to tell reporters why Dalili was not included, but did reveal he had not yet been declared "wrongfully detained" - a designation that would mean the department dedicated more resources to their case and assigned it to a presidential envoy.