Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, North America

RIGHTS-IRAN: Groups Denounce Crackdown on Dual Nationals

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, May 31 2007 (IPS) - Human rights groups are calling on the Iranian government to halt its harassment of dual nationals, release two U.S.-Iranian citizens charged with espionage on Tuesday, return the passports to two other dual-national journalists, and provide information about the location of a peace activist who "disappeared" on May 8.

The American-Iranian dual nationals, Haleh Esfandiari, a Washington-based scholar, and Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based, George Soros-funded Open Society Institute, have been held in Iran since earlier this month.

Last weekend, Iran announced it had uncovered a U.S. spy network and accused the two of espionage in a message sent to Washington through the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Ali Shakheri, a peace activist from Irvine, California, is also believed to be in detention, and may be the victim of an enforced disappearance.

"The Iranian government should immediately release two Iranian-Americans from detention and clarify the case of a third who may have &#39disappeared&#39," said a statement released today by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

The groups also called upon Iran to allow two journalists with dual-nationality, Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda and Mehrnoush Solouki, a documentary filmmaker, to leave Iran, where the Information Ministry has been withholding their passports.

"These measures appear to be an attempt by Iran&#39s security authorities to sow fear into the wider community of journalists, writers, scholars and activists," read the joint statement. "Their exchanges with counterparts in other parts of the world underscore both their commitment to enhance mutual respect and recognition of human dignity through dialogue and to see human rights norms upheld in their country."

The arrests and travel bans seems to be part of a wider crackdown on labour and student organisers and human rights activists by the Iranian Information Ministry.

The Woodrow Wilson Centre, where Esfandiari serves as the director of the Middle East programme, issued a statement on Tuesday announcing that they just received word that Iran&#39s Ministry of Intelligence had charged Esfandiari with espionage and "endangering national security through propaganda against the system."

"We are extremely disheartened to receive this news," said Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Centre. "Haleh is a scholar. The work she does at the Wilson Centre is open, non-partisan, and includes a broad range of views."

"The Wilson Centre receives zero funding from the U.S. government&#39s fund to promote democracy in Iran. Her detention is an affront to the rule of law and common decency. The Wilson Centre&#39s message to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go," Hamilton added.

"We know with confidence that these charges are unfounded. (Iran) should drop the charges and let her go," Shaul Bakhash, Esfandiari&#39s husband, told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

Bakhah cited the way Iranians handled the British soldiers detained in March and requested that the dual-nationals currently detained by Iranian authorities be treated with the same respect and dignity.

According to the statement released by the human rights groups, "detentions and travel bans are part of a broad crackdown being mounted against Iranian human rights activists, students, and labour organisers by Iranian intelligence officials based in the country&#39s Information Ministry."

Esfandiari, who was arrested on May 8, and Tajbakhsh, who was arrested on May 11, are both being held at the Evin prison, where they have been denied access to legal representation and have been allowed only very limited contact with the outside.

Shakeri was "disappeared", according to his associates, on May 8, but in a May 29 statement, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said, "Shakeri is not in detention, and there are no charges against him."

"Iranian intelligence agents often bring politically motivated charges of &#39endangering national security&#39 against activists and intellectuals," said the joint statement.

The groups "reminded the Iranian authorities that they bear full responsibility for the health and safety of all those detained by the state, and that all detainees must be treated with dignity and allowed access to their lawyers and visitors."

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