MEK-Iran: Expert Criticizes Regime’s Use of Foreign Prisoners as Political Pawns
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a leading expert on Iran policy and president of the International American Council, penned an op-ed for Arab News on Thursday, May 2. Entitled, ‘Iranian regime uses foreign prisoners as political pawns’, the piece examined the way the Iranian regime uses prisoners in international diplomacy and the treatment of foreign citizens as political currency, to be traded and leveraged to further regime interests.
OP-ED: #Trump administration critics would have us believe that #Iran’s population stands to suffer from increased sanctions, but the reality is that they will suffer more if the country’s repressive authorities remain unconstrained, writes @Dr_Rafizadeh https://t.co/nrsVU2tAhe pic.twitter.com/im8OZtGLZW
— Arab News (@arabnews) May 5, 2019
During Javad Zarif’s recent visit to the US, the Iranian foreign minister made a shocking offer to Western nations whose citizens are currently languishing in Iranian prisons. He offered to exchange them for Iranian prisoners inside the US and European nations.
“I put this offer on the table, publicly, now. Exchange them. All these people that are in prison inside the United States, on an extradition request from the United States… Let us exchange them,” he said.
The centralized structure of power in Iran means that only the Supreme Leader Khamenei is able to make such offers and follow through with them. The matter of prisoner exchanges would fall under the remit of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary is appointed by Khamenei. Therefore, the judicial system would need Khamenei’s direct approval to make any prisoner exchange offers.
Zarif appeared to acknowledge this. In an interview, when Zarif was probed further on the details and quizzed about the possible release of eight US environmentalist from an Iranian prison, he responded with: “This is not my job. Our judiciary is independent. I have not agreed with the accusations against them, but I am busy enough preventing wars and economic pressures.”
Both the American government and the European Parliament have raised the issue of the eight detained environmentalists with the Iranian government before. In a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, several members of the European Parliament complained, “we understand that the Iranian judiciary has accused the activists of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified strategic information, but a committee established under your authority has found no evidence of these allegations.”
The Iranian government has not yet responded. It has been previously unwilling to release the eight environmentalists or any of the other seven American and European prisoners currently detained in prisons across Iran.
Rafizadeh describes how under President Hassan Rouhani, several countries have increased their travel warnings, urging their citizens to take extra precautions, and in some cases, advising against traveling to Iran while the regime is in power.
The British Foreign Office recently warned all UK-Iranian dual nations to avoid traveling to Iran.
The Iranian regime has a long history of using detained foreigners as diplomatic leverage to advance its international interests. Rafizadeh concluded: “In a nutshell, the Iranian regime is once again using foreign citizens as hostages in order to blackmail other governments.
He urged: “It is incumbent on these countries not to submit to Tehran’s hostage-taking game. Accepting Iran’s terms will only embolden and empower the regime.”