Evin prisoner's daughter urges EU and Germany to stand up to Iran

Nahid Taghavi was arrested three years ago at her apartment in Tehran

Mariam Claren, right, and her mother Nahid Taghavi. It is almost three years since the older woman's arrest in Iran. Photo: Mariam Claren
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The EU should stand up to Iran’s regime and the way it has taken western citizens hostage, the German daughter of a prisoner in Tehran has said.

Mariam Claren, 43, has spoken to The National about her campaign to put pressure on Brussels and Berlin to adopt a more stringent approach to Iran as the third anniversary of her mother’s arrest nears.

Nahid Taghavi, 69, has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since being arrested in October 2020 by the intelligence wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

That is the same unit that detained British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Ms Taghavi is an architect and Iranian-German dual citizen. In 2021, she was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail after being convicted of participating in the management of an illegal group and spreading propaganda against the regime. She denies the charges.

She was arrested as part of an operation in which British-Iranian dual citizen Mehran Raoof was also detained. The veteran trade unionist was left out of a UK deal for the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who were both held in Evin prison.

‘Silent diplomacy is not working’

With no end in sight to her mother’s ordeal, Ms Claren has called for the Eu to take tougher action against Iran. She also wants more support from the government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“It’s horrible. We are fighting two governments: our own and the Islamic Republic’s government,” Ms Claren said.

“It’s really shocking to know three years have passed.

“Hostage taking of foreign citizens is systematic in Iran and there’s a lack of pressure from the EU. They need a task force and a strategy.

“Silent diplomacy is not working.

“The IRGC kidnaps people, arms Hezbollah and Hamas, and gives drones to Russia to use in Ukraine.

“And [EU countries] are still talking about recognising them as a terror organisation.”

European governments “have no clue how to deal with Iran”, she said.

“I don’t understand why there is no working group in Brussels who are looking into this,” she said.

“I have had a lack of support from the German government.

“They are very, very silent. I think they think they are going to harm the situation if they speak out. I am like a stone in their shoe.”

Ms Claren was born in Tehran in 1980 and her father died shortly afterwards.

As a toddler, she relocated with her mother to the western German city of Cologne. It was not until 2007 that Ms Taghavi began to travel back to her homeland on a regular basis.

Sometimes she would spend months living in her property in Iran, even after her parents died.

She was at her apartment in Tehran when she was arrested.

The issue of how to deal with Iran’s hostage diplomacy remains a thorn in the EU’s side.

This week it emerged that Johan Floderus, a Swedish diplomat working for the bloc, has been detained in Iran for more than 500 days.

Campaigners were quick to criticise Sweden and the bloc over their silence.

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of former detainee Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, told The National that western governments need to rethink their policies because “there’s no logic for keeping quiet”. He went as far to liken the policy to “criminal negligence”.

But diplomats in the West have diligently followed a trend of remaining tight-lipped on citizens detained by Iran, in the hope that their pressure behind closed doors could be more effective without cases being discussed in the media.

A recently announced deal between the US and Tehran secured the release of Morad Tahbaz and other American citizens locked up in Iranian prisons. While they remain in the country, they are expected to be allowed to fly to America when the deal is fully finalised.

‘Ghosted’ by Baerbock

Ms Claren, who works as a marketing manager in Cologne, criticised German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock for refusing to meet her.

Ms Baerbock has condemned the IRGC’s actions in recent months but tends to avoid speaking publicly about German citizens detained in Iran.

Gazelle Sharmahd, whose father Jamshid Sharmahd is also detained in Iran, previously told The National that Berlin had not offered enough support.

“Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is ghosting me,” Ms Claren said. “I have asked for a meeting several times and have not yet met her.

“We are the same age and we could have been friends.”

A representative for the Foreign Office in Berlin told The National that the government “has advocated continuously and at a high level for Ms Taghavi”.

“We will continue to do so with undiminished effort. We are in close contact with Ms Taghavi’s family,” the representative said.

Ms Claren referred to Germany’s growing trade ties to Iran as a concern, even as diplomatic relations between the two countries remain frayed.

Iran benefits from trade with several EU nations, including Germany and the Netherlands.

Germany’s exports to Iran jumped by 12.7 per cent from January to November 2022, compared with the same period in the previous year, increasing in value to €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion).

Ms Claren is unable to send medicine or cash to her mother due to western sanctions against Iran.

Following her arrest, Ms Taghavi spent seven months in solitary confinement. Her daily life consisted of sitting blindfolded in a tiny cell and she was forced to sleep on the ground without a mattress or a pillow.

While her mother is now out of solitary confinement and in “good spirits”, Ms Claren said her physical health is cause for concern.

She has developed high blood pressure and diabetes, and some discs in her neck and back have been damaged due to a lack of exercise. This means she is in almost constant pain.

Last summer, Ms Taghavi secured a breakthrough in her case when she persuaded authorities to temporarily release her from prison to receive treatment.

But months later, she was taken back to jail. It came after Mr Scholz condemned Iran’s crackdown on protesters following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini.

Ms Claren, who speaks to her mother by phone several times a week, said she believed his comments would provoke a reaction.

“After Olaf Scholz spoke out I called her and I said, 'Prepare yourself because they are going to send you back to Evin,'” Ms Claren said.

“Within hours, she was taken back. It’s very obvious that it all connects. They are using dual nationals as political pawns.”

Ms Claren, who is supported in Cologne by her partner and stepson, emphasised that her mother was not involved in any efforts to compromise Iran’s security.

Her mother was only involved low-level campaigning during her younger years, Ms Claren said, and her views and activities did not warrant such a severe sentence.

“She was involved in political activism during her student days in the 70s, when the monarchy was in power in Iran,” she explained.

“It was for women’s rights and labour rights.”

As the third anniversary of her mother’s arrest approaches, Ms Claren has considered new ways to intensify her campaign.

“I am not going to be silent, I am going to turn up the volume,” she said.

“I might go on hunger strike or do a sit-in strike.

“It’s heartbreaking but I have nothing if I don’t have hope.”

Updated: September 08, 2023, 5:57 PM