Iran detains dual citizen amid US deal to free prisoners

The arrest follows a deal between Washington and Tehran to unlock frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the release of US citizens

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006. Iranian police detained 70 people at a demonstration in favour of women's rights, the judiciary said on Tuesday, adding it was ready to review reports that the police had beaten some demonstrators.  REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)
Powered by automated translation

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Saturday detained a dual citizen suspected of “trying to organise unrest and sabotage”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, amid heightened security to thwart protests a year after a young woman's death in police custody.

The unidentified individual had “several smartphones … and an appreciable sum of dollars” and was arrested by the IRGC’s intelligence service in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, the agency reported.

The latest arrest comes as Iran is set to release five Iranian-Americans under a Qatar-mediated deal with the US which will also include the reciprocal freeing of five Iranians held by the US and the unfreezing of $6 billion of Tehran's funds held in South Korea.

The IRGC has arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.

The arrests coincide with a campaign by authorities on the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, a Kurdish student who died in police custody after falling into a coma.

Police have mobilised across Iran to stop a repeat of a major protest movement in the wake of her death, which brought several major cities to a halt and led to widespread industrial action.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of trying to win concessions from other countries through arrests on security charges that may have been trumped up. Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, said such arrests are based on its criminal code and denies holding people for political reasons.

Western governments have often made major concessions to win the release of citizens held abroad.

After being released from prison, the Americans set to benefit from the latest deal are now held under house arrest and should go home when the transaction is completed.

This exchange has already been criticised for not including two US residents: German national Jamshid Sharmahd, who is facing the death penalty, and Virginia-based Iranian Shahab Dalili, who was arrested in 2016 while visiting Tehran.

It has also drawn fire from critics who say that unfreezing the funds will reward Iran for its actions and that hostage taking will therefore continue.

Michael McCaul, chair of the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was "deeply concerned that the administration's decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world's top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America's adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking."

At the end of May, Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecasteele was released after 15 months of detention in Iran, in exchange for an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, who had been sentenced in Belgium in 2021 to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges for seeking to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris.

Etienne Dignat, professor at Sciences Po university in Paris, said governments faced a “dilemma” when it came to hostage negotiations.

“By unfreezing assets and exchanging prisoners, they are in a certain way rewarding a crime and encouraging states to continue their hostage diplomacy,” Mr Dignat, author of a book on hostage-taking, told AFP.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 11:30 AM