Iran Must Stop Arbitrary Arrests of Dual Nationals

June 9, 2016

with husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella.

By Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy

At any one time, there are around 10 million people in prison worldwide. Of these, an estimated 3.2 million haven’t yet had a trial. International human rights law prohibits arbitrary detention—detention that occurs for no legitimate reason or without legal process—and requires fair and independent public hearings to determine rights and obligations related to criminal charges.

Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines every individual’s right to be free from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, while Article 10 enshrines an individual’s right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal when faced with criminal charges.

A recent uptick in arrests of dual nationals by Iranian authorities serves as a reminder that constant vigilance is required to ensure freedom from arbitrary detention and fair trial rights are respected worldwide. Iranian authorities routinely claim, without substantiation, that these dual nationals are acting on behalf of foreign intelligence services such as the U.S. CIA, the British MI6, and the Israeli Mossad to undermine Iran’s national security. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, so such individuals are denied consular services when detained.

For example, Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American journalist, was convicted of espionage in Iran in a closed-door trial in 2015. He was released in January 2016, after 18 months in prison. Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker, was arrested on 11 counts of espionage. Beaten and forced to make a televised confession on Iranian national television, Bahari was released after 118 days. However, not all are released. Kamal Foroughi,  a 76-year-old Iranian-British businessman, was arrested and convicted of espionage after an unfair trial before the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He remains imprisoned in Iran.


The most recent arrest of a dual national is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen. Although not a journalist, Zaghari-Ratcliffe works as a project co-ordinator with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charitable arm of the international news outlet Thomson Reuters. She was arrested while at the airport with her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella, on the way home from a visit to her parents in Tehran. Gabriella, who is not Iranian, had her British passport confiscated and was sent to stay with her grandparents in Tehran. She is unable to leave Iran. Security forces in Iran held Zaghari-Ratcliffe in solitary confinement for 45 days before moving her to a group cell. She has been denied consular assistance, and has had limited contact with her family.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe still has not been charged, and has been denied access to a lawyer.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe. Credit: PA
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe. Credit: PA

Take action to stand up for the rights of Nazanin and Kamal, on behalf of all arbitrarily detained prisoners and those convicted in an unfair trial.

You can write on behalf of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe immediately in Persian, English, Arabic, French, Spanish, or your own language urging Iranian authorities to:

  • Release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe unless she is promptly charged with an internationally recognizable offence and tried in line with international fair trial standards
  • Allow her regular contact with an independent lawyer of her own choosing and visits and phone calls from her family, including her daughter;
  • Ensure that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, is granted any medical attention she may require, and that any statements extracted under duress or while she was denied access to a lawyer are excluded from any proceedings against her;
  • Allow her to communicate with British consular officials.

You can write on behalf of Kamal Foroughi immediately in Persian, English, Arabic, French, Spanish, or your own language urging Iranian authorities to:

  • Ensure that Kamal Foroughi receives any specialized medical care he may require and has access to his medical records;
  • Apply without discrimination Article 58 of the Islamic Penal Code, which allows for his conditional release after serving one third of his sentence;
  • Ensure that he has regular access to a lawyer of his choice and to his family, including facilities to communicate with those living abroad without any unreasonable restrictions;
  • Allow him to communicate with British consular officials.