Exeter, Devon UK • May 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features Dual or no dual – a discussion of Iran

Dual or no dual – a discussion of Iran

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The purpose of a Foreign Secretary is to facilitate and develop Britain’s relationships with countries abroad. Boris Johnson’s appointment to this role in July 2016 was immediately questioned by many, due to his numerous embarrassing faux pas. An arguably more serious and damning mistake of the Foreign Secretary’s has been his recent comments regarding British national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Iranian officials cited Johnson’s comments to a parliamentary inquiry regarding Zaghari-Ratcliffe as evidence to justify extending her sentence from five years to ten. The charity worker was arrested in April 2016 on suspicion of spying and training journalists; she has since been charged with spreading propaganda against Iran, a charge that Iranian officials have supported with what they see as Johnson’s ‘confession’.

Boris Johnson’s appointment to this role in July 2016 was immediately questioned by many

Training journalists is not a charge you would see make it to court in Britain, so it is incredible to think that there are still governments in the world that see this as a crime. Regardless of the fact that this was not the nature of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s business (she was taking her daughter to meet her grandparents), if she had been training journalists, how many governments would get away with arresting her for it?

The 1985 Press Law in Iran prohibits “discourse harmful to the principles of Islam” and “public interest”. The law gives the Iranian government a broad enough mandate to control and censor all information within the country – they can simply cite anything they find displeasing to be harmful to the public interest. Human Rights Watch has lodged concern with this law, citing a similar worry that the law can be enforced too broadly and at the discretion of those in government.

Freedom of expression and of the press is a right that those who have can easily take for granted

Freedom of expression and of the press is a right that those who have can easily take for granted. Many claim that freedom of speech in Iran has improved in recent years, most notably from 2013 when Hassan Rouhani, who presented himself as a moderate, was elected President. However, the Press Law continues to be actively enforced in an effort to achieve a consensus of opinion amongst both publications and, consequently, the public. A key example of this abuse of power was how the government controlled information about Iran’s nuclear deal with the United States of America in 2015.

Despite framing themselves as moderate, the Rouhani administration, announced that they had removed 130 Facebook pages and detained 30 individuals due to activity on their Facebook accounts in relation to the nuclear deal. The Supreme National Security Council also issued “guidelines” to newspapers forbidding them from publishing criticism of the deal. The suppression and censorship of individual opinion and press was frequent and far-reaching, as the Rouhani administration attempted to control what information regarding the nuclear deal was available to the people, and what opinions they could freely express.

The flexibility of the Press Law, and the minimal resistance with which any attempt at censorship is met with has led to an environment in which those who are perfectly innocent, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, are believed to be arrested with limited to no evidence. Despite arguably receiving the most media coverage, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is certainly not the only dual-national to be detained by the Iranian government. Until 2015, most years saw single digits of dual-nationals arrested in Iran, but the past two years have seen 30 arrests, more and more of these being European-Iranians as opposed to American-Iranians. This increase in arrests occurred following the signing of the nuclear deal, which itself resulted in the release of five U.S. citizens.

Iran is gathering human bargaining chips by arresting dual-nationals for spying

Iran is gathering human bargaining chips by arresting dual-nationals for spying and trading them back to their nations in exchange for favourable deals. The five U.S. citizens are the most notable example of this, but the United Kingdom has recently agreed to pay a decades-old debt of £400 million to Iran and, despite both parties claiming that this payment has nothing to do with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment, the timing is unlikely to be a coincidence. The United Kingdom, officially, does not pay ransom money for its citizens, but to call this payment of a debt anything but a ransom payment would be difficult.

Iran abuses its totalitarian justice system in order to take numerous hostages, which foreign nations have no option but to free by any means necessary, often involving an exchange of money or signing of otherwise unlikely agreements. The nuclear deal, although somewhat blocking Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, lifted most of the sanctions that had been placed on Iran by both the USA and the UN over the past four decades. This is significant as the sanctions that were in place had crippled Iran’s economy, severely limiting their exports and their oil industry. The removal of these sanctions has already begun to reinvigorate Iran’s economy: their oil exports have doubled, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has measured a growth of between 4 and 5.5 per cent, up significantly from 1.3 per cent the year before the deal was signed.

the removal of these sanctions has already begun to reinvigorate Iran’s economy

Iran’s largest security force, the Revolutionary Guards corps, has grown from a small, regional military organisation to a sprawling business network worth in excess of $100 billion. The Revolutionary Guards have such economic and military influence that many see them as being above the government, free to do as they please. This economic behemoth is the same military organisation responsible for the massive increase in arrests of dual-nationals, including Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Prior to the Nuclear Deal, the Revolutionary Guards had little to no competition for government contracts, due to the sanctions the rest of the world had placed on the country. No foreign business would dare to get involved in business in Iran, but this attitude changed upon the lifting of these sanctions. An entirely new market was opened up to the world, and as the Middle East’s second largest economy, the market was rather attractive.

The Revolutionary Guard almost immediately began arresting dual citizens, people whom they technically had the right to imprison, due to their Iranian citizenship, but who also represented foreign countries. This was an effort to scare off foreign business. Whilst the Iranian government craves foreign investment and business opportunities now available to them, the Revolutionary Guard fears this competition and is using these arrests to scare away foreign business from sending employees to the country, fearing that they face a similar fate to Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

These dual-nationals find themselves as bargaining chips in a game between three powers: the Iranian government, the Revolutionary Guard, and their home countries. The Iranian government seeks to use these people to generate more profitable agreements whilst the Revolutionary Guard arrests them as a deterrent to international businesses. The conflicting ambitions of these powers means it is likely we will see a conflict between them in the coming years, of which the outcome is almost unpredictable as the Guard have as much economic and political influence as the government itself, if not more. But for now, the dual-nationals, Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other unsuspecting innocents, remain in the middle of two of the most ruthless forces in the world, and their future remains completely uncertain.


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