Put sanctions on judges to free Iran hostages, families demand

Iran has become emboldened to detain foreigners after failures of international leadership, group says

(FILES) In this file handout photo taken on August 23, 2018 and released by the Free Nazanin campaign on August 23, 2018, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran following her release from prison for three days. - Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who has been held in Tehran for more than two years on sedition charges, returned to prison on August 26, 2018, after temporary release, dashing her family's hopes of an extension. (Photo by - / Free Nazanin campaign / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVE
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Iranian judges and jailers responsible for holding foreign prisoners on false charges should be hit with US-led sanctions to show international anger at hostage-taking, relatives and former detainees said on Tuesday.

Failure by the UN and governments to punish Iran over decades has emboldened the regime to continue a campaign of jailing foreign nationals to secure concessions from its foes, relatives say.

The group includes the family of Bob Levinson, a private investigator, who disappeared more than 12 years ago.

It also includes and the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British charity worker who has been held for more than three years after visiting her family.

“There have been no serious consequences for them for the imprisonment of hostages,” said Jared Genser, a lawyer for Babak Namazi, whose father and brother are detained in Iran.

“Regimes will release hostages when the cost of keeping them in prison dramatically outweighs the benefits.”

Richard Ratcliffe said in Washington that officials involved in the “hostage industry” should be penalised using the 2012 US law designed to freeze the assets and restrict the travel of officials involved in human rights breaches.

His wife was jailed by Abolghassem Salavati, known as Iran’s "hanging judge" who, despite his notoriety, has not been targeted with sanctions, said the campaigners.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years for plotting against the regime, a charge dismissed by her supporters and the UK government.

The group called for more extensive travel bans on family of senior regime figures, including the estimated 100 already in the US, who have no restrictions on their movements.

“There should be a real clear cost for hostage taking,” said Mr Ratcliffe said. “It should be anathema in the modern world.”

The US under President Donald Trump has used sanctions as a foreign policy tool more often than any other administration.

A person facing financial sanctions will have their assets frozen and companies operating out of the US will be unable to do business with them.

The US designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation in April and last month announced sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eight advisers.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese former prisoner, said he went from solitary confinement to sharing a 5 metre by 5 metre room with 24 foreign inmates before he was released in June.

Mr Zakka said they included students taken from the streets in Lebanon.

“Just before I left, I promised that I will keep working until everyone is out,” he said. “This is an industry.

"They have been doing it for 40 years and they’ve been successful, and they’re doing it again and again and again.”

More relatives of hostages have been speaking publicly about their cases despite advice from some governments that quiet diplomacy would be more effective.

The family of Bob Levinson, 71, a former FBI agent who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, is due to give evidence in a US court this week.

They are trying to secure punitive damages from the regime for the distress caused by his seizure.

“Every single day is a nightmare,” said his daughter, Sarah Moriarty. “This week we have to bring up all the emotions we have been trying to withhold for so long. It needs to end.”