Aug 27, 2023
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband criticises US-Iran prisoners release deal
Two US residents, one of whom is on death row, are being unfairly excluded, says Richard Ratcliffe
Two US residents, one in fear of execution, are being unfairly excluded from an imminent deal between US-Iran to release prisoners, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has claimed.
Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife was freed after five years in a Tehran prisonin 2022, said there was no legal reason why the two residents were not included in a deal to release five US citizens in return for the unfreezing of $6bn (£4.8bn) of Iranian assets in South Korea. It is also expected that four Iranians will be released from US jails.
Three of the five Iranian-Americans to be released have been named and are out of jail and in a hotel in Tehran waiting for the completion of the deal.
Iran is said to have given undertakings to Qatar, an intermediary, about how Iranian assets in South Korea will be used only to purchase food and medicines, and not for military purposes.
Ratcliffe said he welcomed the release of Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, who had all been sentenced to 10 years in prison on unsubstantiated charges of spying. “These are all families we campaigned with over many years who themselves have been left behind by other administrations,” he said.
Darian Dalili, whose father, Shahab, has been held in an Iranian jail since 2016, protests during a hunger strike outside the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty
But he said two US permanent residents, Shahab Dalili and Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen, remained “behind in an Iranian jail … partly because the US government had chosen not to classify them as wrongfully detained by Iran”.
Under US legislation governing state hostage-taking, known as the Levinson Act, the country is supposed to provide protection not just to its wrongly detained citizens but to legal permanent residents.
The US Department of State denied that Dalili and Sharmahd had been forgotten or excluded.
“We are closely tracking both these cases. For privacy, safety, and operational reasons, we do not get into the details of our internal or diplomatic discussions on reported detainees,” a spokesperson said, adding that the US was demanding the immediate release of both prisoners.
“Discussing the issue of detainees publicly is not productive or helpful to our goal of securing their release. Such discussions would be sensitive and highly consequential to those individuals and their families.”
Two children of Dalili and Sharmahd have for the past week staged a sit-in outside the state department in Washington DC, seeking a meeting with officials.
Sharmahd moved to California from Germany in 2003, but he was captured by Iranian intelligence in Dubai and sentenced to death for “corruption on Earth”.
His daughter Gazelle Sharmahd said her father, who had helped set up a website to collate opposition to the Iranian regime, should have his case prioritised since he was the only one facing the death sentence and the only one subject to an international kidnapping by Iran, in 2020, as well as an assassination attempt in 2009.
Dalili has been in jail since 2016, serving a 10-year sentence.
Ratcliffe said: “I have not seen any justification by the state department why Dalili and Shamahd have not been designated. They will have been lobbying for the best part of three years to be designated. It is really hard in terms of natural justice when someone gets left behind for opaque reasons.”
He said that in the past year at least two foreign citizens on death row in Iran had been killed. “This year we have seen Iran expand its hostage diplomacy into execution diplomacy. We are not talking about being against the death penalty. We are talking about the risk of people being killed for leverage.”
A spokesperson for the US state department said: “We are closely monitoring Mr Sharmahd’s case and his treatment at the hands of the Iranian regime has been reprehensible. He has been sentenced to death after a legal proceeding that has been widely criticised as a sham trial and we have condemned the treatment of Jamshid Sharmahd in the strongest terms.”
On the question of the wrongfully detained designation, the spokesperson said the US regularly reviewed cases of foreign detentions to assess whether they were wrongful, according to the Levinson Act. The criteria used include “whether the individual is being detained to influence US policy, whether there is credible information that the individual is innocent, and whether the person is being detained due to their US connections”.
The state department did not explain why Dalili and Sharmahd had so far not been designated under those criteria.
Ratcliffe also criticised the timing of the agreement, which he said had been available to the US two years ago.
“It is an odd deal in that it is so drawn out. As a hostage family, it is always better late than never, and I will always support a deal that brings people home. But we do need to think about the impact it will have on human rights in Iran. The US is allowing this deal to come to fruition on the anniversary of the death of Masha Amini [the Kurdish woman who died in police custody, sparking months of protests across Iran].
“This deal is clearly part of an Iranian government plan to manage the anniversary headlines, along with a new round of mass arrests. Why the US government has gone along with that timing, I don’t know. US debates on Iran often seem really insular, like it is a domestic issue.”
Ratcliffe added: “The [Iranian] minister of intelligence made clear this week that he has other hostages and some on death row. The threat to escalate is real. For many states, it still feels like the hostages are subordinate to reviving the nuclear deal. Many new Europeans are still being picked up, and their families are still being suppressed from revealing their cases. I think there is the real probability of an execution of another foreign citizen before the end of the year.”