Mehran Raoof: Campaigners criticise UK as activist is left out of Iran prisoner releases

British-Iranian labour rights campaigner was arrested during a sweep in Tehran in October 2020

Mehran Raoof has been held at the Evin prison in Tehran since October 2020. Photo: Alamy

Supporters of a labour rights campaigner held in Iran’s Evin jail have said it is a “travesty and outrage” that other British dual-nationals remain behind bars after two were freed following a debt deal struck between the countries.

The agreement to repay a decades-old arms deal debt of nearly £400 million ($525m) debt led to the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, and Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, last month, but at least three Britons remain in prison.

They include Mehran Raoof, a veteran trade unionist, and Mehran Tahbaz, a conservationist who also holds US citizenship and was supposed to have been freed as part of last month’s deal. Both men are in their 60s. Iran said in August 2020 that lawyer Shahram Shirkhani, a British dual-national, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying.

“The cases of these five UK-Iranian nationals may not have been identical, but all were illegitimately arrested and imprisoned without due process, and none was given anything resembling a fair and open trial,” said Satar Rahmani, a UK-based spokesman for Mr Raoof.

“All have been subjected to brutal, inhuman treatment, including instances of the torture of solitary confinement.”

Mr Raoof’s campaign has criticised the UK government’s efforts to secure his release. The veteran campaigner told a supporter from prison that he did not expect to be included as part of any deal as discussions were continuing.

Mr Raoof was picked up in a sweep of rights activists in Tehran in October 2020 and has been held for months in solitary confinement.

He has been held in a room with the lights kept on for 24 hours-a-day and his lawyer was detained for a time. He was given a 10-year sentence along with a German dual-national, Nahid Taghivi, a campaigner for women’s rights, and local activists after a trial last year.

"It remains in Iran's gift to release any British nationals who are unfairly detained," said a Foreign Office spokesperson. "We are in contact with Mehran Raoof and his family and continue to provide consular support."

The UK government said that it had negotiated the release of Mr Tahbaz as part of the agreement but he was returned to prison within days of being freed.

Mr Tahbaz, who has been treated in prison for cancer, was part of a group of conservationists from the Tehran-based Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation who were arrested in 2018 despite being given a licence to operate. He was also sentenced to ten years in prison, in a case based partly on a retracted forced confession.

Updated: April 04, 2022, 9:00 PM