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Europe must prioritize hostages in nuclear talks with Iran | View

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Barry Rosen, 75, was one of the US embassy staff members detained in Tehran for 444 days by the Iranian regime in 1979. On Wednesday, January 19, he will begin a hunger strike calling for the release of foreigners and dual citizens held hostage by the Iranian regime. Iranian regime, as a central element of the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna.

Amid another round of nuclear talks, aimed at stopping Iran’s illegal nuclear agenda, one element of the regime’s callous nature has been routinely forgotten: hostage diplomacy.

Since the fall of the Shah in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enthusiastically adopted a state-sanctioned practice of jailing foreign nationals and dual citizens to create diplomatic pressure points.

I myself was incarcerated for 444 days during the US embassy hostage crisis, so I understand better than anyone the cruelty the regime can inflict on innocent people whose only crime was offering a convenient target.

Abuse of dual nationality for political purposes

Iran’s callous custom of hostage diplomacy was thrust back into the spotlight last December thanks to relentless protests by Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held captive by the regime. since 2016.

Nazanin is not the first dual national to be imprisoned by the Islamic Republic, nor will she be the last. Numerous foreign citizens and dual citizens have been imprisoned since the beginning of the regime, beginning with the 1979 crisis.

Many Europeans are still behind bars in Iran, several in the notorious Evin prison, including British-Iranians Anoosheh Ashoori and Sharam Shirkani, Swedish-Iranian professor Ahmad Reza Djalali, and Austrian-Iranian Massud Mossaheb, to name a few.

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At least 15 dual nationals are confirmed to be jailed in Iran on false and unfounded charges. They are routinely denied proper legal representation and have no access to medical assistance. Torture and cruel interrogation practices are routine, including sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, prolonged handcuffing and blindfolding, as well as intense psychological torture.

Sadly, these dual national detainees appear to have been largely forgotten by their home countries, despite tireless campaigns by their families to secure them consular assistance and legal representation. Detainees themselves cannot apply for consular assistance as Tehran claims not to recognize dual citizenship.

A calculated approach

Dual nationals are targeted precisely because their secondary home nations can be trusted to engage in negotiations for their release, allowing Tehran to file lawsuits.

These abusive practices are free. The regime knows very well that the charges presented to these individuals are a mixture of lies and fantasies. Iran’s leadership views these prisoners through the cold lens of geopolitical and diplomatic strategy.

Nazanin and others are seen as a bargaining chip for the regime: a trump card to play when it needs to negotiate with ‘enemies’.

Just last week, as nuclear talks continued, the regime released British council worker Aras Amiri, while French-Iranian professor Fariba Adelkhan was jailed again. This calculated approach by Tehran highlights the government’s disregard for human freedoms and willingness to imprison those it deems useful, on a mere whim.

Europe must present a united front

The use of hostage diplomacy by the Iranian government cannot be addressed through the actions of any country. Whenever a Western country agrees to Tehran’s demands, it simply encourages the regime to continue, or increase, the practice in the future.

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Instead, the international community must come together to finally put an end to this abhorrent practice. The resumption of talks on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) presents an opportunity to do just this.

Last month saw the return of Western and Iranian officials to the negotiating table after years of stalled debate and rising tensions. Reviving these necessary talks has been a main focus of media coverage in recent weeks.

However, both Western officials and the international media seem to have forgotten the plight of dual nationals held hostage by Tehran.

That is why I am starting a hunger strike on January 19, outside the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna, where the nuclear negotiations will take place. Hostage diplomacy must be a critical part of these conversations and my goal is to raise awareness of the dire conditions faced by prisoners held unjustly.

Europe is in danger of missing the opportunity that the nuclear talks provide to address the horrendous practice of hostage diplomacy and the traumatized people and their families who suffer from it.

It is time for Europe to show the way and for the international community to confront the Islamic Republic. Without comprehensive and effective action, the Iranian regime will have little incentive to stop this cruel practice and will continue to flout international norms.

_Barry Rosen has been an advocate for the needs of hostages and their families since he was freed from Tehran nearly four decades ago. He is a founding member of Hostage Aid Worldwide and a Senior Advisor to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). _

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