Iran's scheme to reassure dual nationals angers families of detained
Families of dual nationals detained in Iran on Monday expressed bewilderment and anger after the country's foreign minister said a new scheme would be introduced to reassure foreign arrivals that they would not be detained during their stay.
Over a dozen foreign passport holders, mainly dual nationals, are being held in Iran on what activists and supporters say are baseless accusations aimed at extracting concessions from the West.
Several European countries now strongly warn dual nationals against trips to Iran for visiting family or business, warning that full consular assistance cannot be guaranteed as Iran does not recognise dual nationality.
But dual nationals have long played an important role in business and investment in Iran. The government of President Ebrahim Raisi fears their absence risks further stalling an economy already battered by US sanctions.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he had told a committee representing Iranians abroad that the issue of "Iranians with dual nationality" should be resolved in parliament and that a website would be set up to assure them there would be no problem with travel.
"Some Iranians abroad may fear that they will have difficulty entering the country through airports," he wrote on Instagram, in a rare official acknowledgement of the issue.
"A system is being introduced on the website of the ministry to notify these people that they have no problem coming and leaving the country. And if a problem arises, the ministry will be responsible" for ensuring it is resolved, he added.
Elika Ashoori, whose father Anoosheh Ashoori, a British-Iranian national, was detained on a visit to Iran in 2019 and is now serving a 10-year sentence on spying charges his family says are baseless, lashed out at the minister's suggestion.
"Seriously? Tell that to my father whose life your gov(ernment) ruined by putting a bag over his head on the street and shoving him in a van, based on no evidence or proof, during his stay," she wrote on Twitter.
"What did our family ever do to deserve this?" she added.
Free Nazanin, the group set up to push for the release of British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrested during a visit to her family in Tehran in 2016, asked: "Rather than setting up an odd website, it might be easier for the Iranian authorities just to stop taking hostages?"
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allowed to leave prison for house arrest in March 2020. She has now served her five-year-sentence but still cannot leave Iran and her family fear she could return to prison after being convicted in another case.
Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka, a US resident detained in 2015 on charges of spying for the United States and released only in June 2019, noted he had been invited to Iran by the government itself and then been arrested.
He said the elite Revolutionary Guards, who observers accuse of being behind the spate of arrests, were seeking to "fool" foreign nationals into going back to Iran.
"It seems this is more of a warning for dual nationals not to go back to their country," he said.