Families of four Europeans jailed in Iran demand greater efforts for their release

The two German and two Austrian dual citizens are being held as hostages by Tehran, say their families

Austrians Massud Mossaheb, left, and Kamran Ghaderi have both been jailed for a decade on 'baseless' espionage charges. Photo: Family handouts
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The families of four European Union citizens held in Iranian prisons have called on the German and Austrian governments to punish Tehran over its hostage-taking policy.

The families of the dual citizens — Germans Nahid Taghavi and Jamshid Sharmahd and Austrians Massud Mossaheb and Kamran Ghaderi — called on the two foreign ministers to show that human rights were not just “empty phrases” and demand their release.

They questioned whether the two governments were doing enough to confront Iran over what they described as its “hostage-taking” policy — targeting foreign citizens to use as pawns in a broader diplomatic dispute with European governments.

“Are all measures being taken to free our loved ones?” the families of the four asked, in an open letter to foreign ministers Annalena Baerbock of Germany and Alexander Schallenberg of Austria.

“When, if not now, would it be time to publicly name our loved ones; to stand behind them, your citizens, and to demand their release with all vehemence?”

The families of jailed dual citizens have stepped up pressure on their governments to try to secure their release as part of any deal to resume the 2015 nuclear deal agreed between Iran and western nations.

The deal to lift sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear programme foundered after the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) under former US president Donald Trump.

The US has said that any return to the agreement would have to be accompanied by the release of prisoners held on trumped-up security charges but European governments have been less outspoken about prisoner releases, preferring behind-the-scenes talks.

Those tactics have led to families in Europe accusing their governments of doing too little to secure freedom for prisoners.

Mariam Claren, the daughter of Ms Taghavi, said their letter was prompted by the release last month of two Britons, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, after the UK paid a 1970s debt related to an aborted arms deal.

The families said in the letter that they “have been waiting for years to see this day. Instead we fear for their lives every single day”.

“There's a lot of inaction,” said Ms Claren. “The JCPOA talks are sleeping, the Russian war is dominating … but our relatives are still languishing in prison and there's no movement on that.”

Mr Mossaheb, 75, an engineer; Ms Taghavi, 67; and Mr Ghaderi, 58, are all held in Evin prison in Tehran after each was jailed for a decade after what rights groups say were unfair show trials.

Mr Sharmahd, 66, has been kept in isolation at a secret location since he was snatched by Iranian agents while travelling to India in August 2020.

The US resident faces the death penalty after being accused of involvement in a 2008 mosque bombing in Iran that killed 14 people. His family say the charges are unfounded.

Updated: April 20, 2022, 10:57 AM