Hostage diplomacy… Iran is in the crosshairs of international criticism

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The European Union’s foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, said today, Monday, that the bloc cannot include the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist entities unless after a decision is issued by an EU court stating that.

“This matter cannot be decided without a court, a decision by the court first. You cannot say I consider you a terrorist because I do not like it,” Borrell told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, adding that a court in an EU member state should The European Union must issue a concrete legal condemnation before the bloc itself can act in this matter.

Last week, the European Parliament called on the Union to include the Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist entities and accused it of being responsible for suppressing protests inside Iran and for providing Russia with drones.

Hundreds of demonstrators

On the other hand, hundreds of demonstrators urged Belgium, on Sunday, to make more efforts to release aid worker Olivier Vendecastel, who is imprisoned in Iran in a case considered part of “hostage diplomacy”. The crowd gathered in freezing temperatures in central Brussels, chanting “Freedom to Olivier” and throwing a symbolic party to mark Findikastel’s 42nd birthday this week. “The aim is to say to the government that no innocent person should be left there,” his sister, Natalie, told AFP.

Every second counts

Olivier van Steerteegem’s family spokesman stressed that “every minute and every second counts” and that they hope the growing public pressure for his release will prompt the Belgian authorities to find a faster solution.

Iran arrested Vendicastel in February 2022, and he has been held since then in conditions the Belgian government described as “inhumane”.

Solidarity march organized by Amnesty International and a support committee to demand the liberation of Olivier Vandecastel (AFP)

This month, a court sentenced him to more than 12 years in prison for “espionage”, in addition to punishing him with 74 lashes.

UN human rights experts have criticized Findikasil’s detention as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Hostage diplomacy

His supporters and human rights organizations claim that he is being held as part of Iranian “hostage diplomacy” to try to force Belgium to release an Iranian diplomat imprisoned on terrorism charges.

Diplomat Assadullah Assadi was convicted in 2021 of masterminding a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition event near Paris in 2018.

European intelligence services thwarted the plot, and Asadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing explosives for use in a bomb.

Prisoner exchange agreement

In July of last year, Belgium and Iran signed a prisoner exchange agreement that Brussels saw as paving the way for its return to its homeland.

But the Belgian Constitutional Court suspended the deal after Iranian dissidents in exile challenged it on the grounds that it would lead to Assadi’s release.

The Constitutional Court said the suspension was in effect pending a ruling on the legality of the deal.

Meanwhile, the Belgian government confirmed that it was doing “everything in its power” to secure the release of Vendikastel, and said it had strengthened its legal team to plead the case.

international outrage

The arrests of foreigners fueled international anger against Iran, and the White House said, last Tuesday, that it had received a letter addressed to President Joe Biden from Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American citizen detained in Iran for more than seven years on charges of espionage, and described Tehran’s use of the arrest as a paper for political pressure as Outrageous.

“We remain committed to securing his freedom, and the US government continues to work to bring him home, along with other US citizens detained without legal warrant in Iran. Iran’s use of detention as a card for political leverage is outrageous,” spokeswoman Karen Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Revolutionary Guards

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that she supports the inclusion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organizations to respond to the “violation” of basic human rights in Iran.

“The Iranian regime’s reaction is terrible and appalling and they are violating basic human rights,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

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“We are already looking forward to a new round of sanctions, and I will also support the inclusion of the Revolutionary Guards (on the list of terrorist organizations). I have heard many ministers asking for that and I think they are right,” she added.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry expressed its “extreme concern” about the health condition of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish man who has been detained in Iran since October, according to ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre, confirming his identity.

Legendre said that his health condition is “fragile and requires appropriate medical follow-up that is not available in his place of detention,” calling for “the release of Mr. Phelan without delay.” She added in a statement, “We confirm that Mr. Bernard Phelan, a French-Irish citizen, is one of our seven citizens who are being held by the authorities.” arbitrarily Iranian.

German arrest

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On Tuesday, the Iranian newspaper Jam-i-Jam reported that Tehran had arrested a German citizen for taking pictures of sensitive oil centers in Khuzestan province, southern Iran, according to Reuters.

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While the French Press Agency reported that Iran had released an influential and prominent chef on “Instagram” who was arrested earlier this month as part of its crackdown on protests across the country, as announced by rights groups and supporters.

Nawab Ebrahimi, known for his videos promoting Iranian cuisine, was arrested in Tehran on January 4 and transferred to Evin Prison in the city.

Iranian director and photographer Nik Yousefi, who was also arrested last October as part of the crackdown and then released, wrote on Twitter that Ibrahimi was released on bail on Wednesday, and posted his picture smiling.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency (Hrana) also reported that Ibrahimi had been released on bail, adding that there was no information about the charges against him.

Iran has arrested at least 14,000 people since the start of protests across the country on September 16, following the death of the young woman, Mahsa Amini (22 years), three days after the morality police arrested her for not adhering to the strict rules of dress in the Islamic Republic, according to the United Nations. United.

Prominent directors, lawyers and activists were arrested during the crackdown on protests in Iran, and some of them were released on bail, including the famous actress Traneh Alidosti, but others are still in prison.

The Eiffel Tower stands in solidarity

In the context, the famous Eiffel Tower in the French capital, Paris, was lit up last Monday with slogans in support of Iranian protesters and women fighting for more rights.

“Stop executions in Iran” slogan on the Eiffel Tower (AFP)

Four months after the death of Mahsa Amini, the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom” and the slogan “Stop the execution in Iran” appeared on the tower, which are among the most prominent chants during the protests.

France summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires a few days ago over the execution of a British-Iranian citizen accused of espionage, and Iran is still detaining French citizens in what Paris calls arbitrary detention.

Gathering in Paris

Support committees and relatives of Frenchmen detained in Iran are scheduled to organize a rally in support of them in Trocadero Square in Paris on January 28, in a move aimed at drawing the authorities’ attention to the “inhuman conditions of detention they face”.

A statement by the support committees, published on Monday by relatives of Fariba Aldakhah, Benjamin Brier, Cecile Koehler and Bernard Phelan, said, “Currently, there are seven French nationals under arrest in Iran for the wrong reasons.”

The statement added that these seven Frenchmen “are accused by the Islamic Republic of Iran of espionage, and they are deprived of their most basic rights, starting with the right to an effective judicial investigation and trial.”

The statement stressed that French nationals have been deprived of contact with their relatives “for months, and some of them have been in isolation.” The authors of the statement expressed their concern about the physical and psychological health of these people, calling for “their immediate release and return to their homeland.”

The gathering, which will be “symbolic and peaceful”, will take place at 14:00 (13:00 GMT) in the Human Rights Square in Paris.

Dozens of arrests

The Iranian authorities are detaining dozens of foreign nationals, assuring them that they are innocent and being used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a bargaining chip, while Iran seeks with the major powers to revive the international agreement concluded in 2015 to ensure the peacefulness of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran is accused of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, which it always denies, and many countries, including France, are accusing Iran directly of using foreign detainees as “state hostages”.

Tehran stresses that all the foreigners it holds are held under local law, but it is open to engaging in a prisoner exchange.

The French-Iranian researcher, Fariba Adelkhah, was arrested in June 2019, and later sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of undermining national security.

As for Benjamin Brier, he was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for espionage.

Cecil Koehler and her partner, Jack Barry, were arrested in May while on a tour in Iran, and Tehran accuses them of espionage.

Finally, the case of the Irish-Frenchman Bernard Phelan, who has been detained in Iran since October, has come to the fore, that is, in the midst of the protests taking place in Iran.

Two other French detainees in Iran remain unidentified, and at the end of December, the French Foreign Ministry confirmed the “full” mobilization of the French authorities for the release of the seven French nationals.

retaliatory actions

In turn, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly confirmed that London does not rule out taking further retaliatory measures against Iran after the execution of the Iranian-British citizen Ali Reza Akbari (61 years old), who was convicted of spying for British intelligence in Tehran.

Cleverly told the House of Commons, “Now we must, with our allies, study the next steps that we will take to combat the growing threat posed by Iran. We do not confine ourselves to the measures that we have previously announced.” The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is on its list of “terrorist” organizations.

“Akbari’s execution comes after decades of oppression by a ruthless regime,” Cleverly added, stressing his country’s support for the Iranian people “who demand rights and freedoms.” the scientist”.

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