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'No respect for international law': The nightmare of Europeans who are held hostage in Iran

Martial Trezzini
Martial Trezzini Copyright Martial Trezzini/AP2011
Copyright Martial Trezzini/AP2011
By Estelle Nilsson-JulienEva Kandoul
Published on Updated
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Europeans detained in Iran are facing torture, lengthy sentences and for some even the death penalty. Euronews spoke to some of their family members about their hopes and fears..

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Mariam Claren’s says her life changed forever after her 68-year-old mother Nahid Taghavi was arrested in October 2020 by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard. 

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Taghavi was charged with disrupting national security and disseminating propaganda against the state. In fact, Taghavi was an Iranian-German activist who had dedicated her life to women's and labour rights in Iran.

Despite being a dual national, Taghavi was not protected by her German passport. 

"Iran has no respect for international law and does not recognise dual nationality", states Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, President of French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, which campaigns against the death penalty.

"Shame on me, I did not care about human rights abuses in Iran before my mother’s arrest.

Taghavi, whose health is frail, has endured stretches of several months in solitary confinement. Last summer, she was allowed to leave the Evin Prison in order to seek medical treatment. However, this was cut short.

"The authorities took her away from the hospital right after the German Chancellor's speech condemning human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic of Iran", says her daughter. "You see there is always a link between the actions of Iran and Germany. The reaction is always to harm the prisoners. Shame on me, I did not care about human rights abuses in Iran before my mother’s arrest. My bubble suddenly burst." 

Mariam Claren
On the right Mariam Claren, with her mother Nahid Taghavi before she was arrested.Mariam Claren

Claren, who grew up in Germany, has become a full-time activist fighting for justice in Iran since her mother's arrest.

According to international relations expert Thierry Coville, Iran regularly uses dual nationals and Europeans as bargaining chips. "They are convinced that there is no use in negotiating from equal to equal. There is no interest in traditional diplomacy with the West, the European Union or the United State," he explains.

A 'nightmare' for families

Vida Mehrannia’s husband Ahmad Reza Jalali, a dual Swedish-Iranian national, was arrested by the Iranian authorities in 2016.

Charged with espionage and sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jalali had travelled to Tehran to attend an academic conference.

The couple’s children were four and 13 years old, at the time of his arrest. They are now respectively 11 and 20 years old. ‘For our family, it is a nightmare and we don’t know when it is going to end," says Vida.

Jalali is not the first Swedish-Iranian to await a death sentence. In early May, Habib Chaab, also a dual-national Swedish-Iranian, was executed. Charged with allegedly organising a crime against a military parade in 2018, Chaab had been living in Sweden for over a decade when he was abducted by Iranian agents from Turkey in 2020. 

Vida Mehrannia
Ahmad Reza Jalali, before his arrest in 2016.Vida Mehrannia

Chaab's execution was ‘strongly condemned’ by Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative in a statement released on 6 May.

Condemnations which did not satisfy Jalali’s family, whose distress was greatly amplified by the news. 

"It was horrible to find out about Habib Chaab's execution. We are so nervous and stressed about what will happen to my husband. He has been given a sentencing date four times now but it has yet to be carried out," says Vida.

Though many European political prisoners were arrested before Iran's latest wave of political unrest, sparked by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini last September, this has influenced execution rates. According to Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), there was a 75% rise in executions in 2022. 

"In the beginning, I had a lot of hope. I cannot believe we have to go through this every day

Vida did not speak to her husband for two and a half years, while he spent long stretches of time in solitary confinement. However, she is now able to regularly contact him for brief phone calls.

According to Vida, her husband was promised release in exchange for confessing to a crime on Iranian state TV: "They told him if you don’t do this confession, your family will be in danger in Sweden. They told him what to say."

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As the years go by hopes of his release dwindle: "In the beginning, I had a lot of hope. But a lot of time has passed and I am feeling up and down because it’s so tough. I cannot believe we have to go on with this every day."

Many of Iran’s political prisoners, as well as Europeans, are housed in the Evin Prison, located in the Evin neighbourhood of Tehran.

Mehrannia explains that communicating with other hostage families has been key to coping: "We are part of a WhatsApp group, where we share information with each other about how it’s going."

But speaking to other families is also a harsh reminder of the gravity of her husband’s situation.  "We cannot compare, every case is different. Some are sentenced to five or ten years - but my husband to death."

Those who got away

For some exiled Iranians, Europe is now home. This is the case for Massoumeh Raouf. 

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Raouf was only 20 years old when he was arrested in the street in September 1981. Accused of collaborating with the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, she told Euronews that she was sentenced to "20 years in prison, during a 10-minute sham trial by a judge following Shariah law.”

After eight months in prison, she managed to escape, seeking political exile in France in the 1980s. She has continued her battle for Iranian justice from abroad, with the National Council of Iranian Resistance. "I am thankful France gave me the chance to come here," she says.

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