This past week, World Net Daily issued a new report on the spying activities of institutions like the Iranian Revolutionary Revolutionary Guards and its civilian affiliate, the Basij. Based on research by a worldwide Christian ministry, the report focused on how these organizations specifically target Iranian Christians, and how spying upon such individuals does not necessarily end just because they have left the Islamic Republic.
WND quotes one Iranian Christian as saying, “If your name comes up anywhere, anywhere that it shouldn’t, then they will keep watching you.” This can lead to arrest, torture, and even enforced disappearance. But among those who have fled the country ahead of these outcomes, some have reported recent encounters with Iranian agents in such places as refugee camps in Europe.
The report goes on to say that senior IRGC officials have publicly declared their intentions to expand their activities in Iran and the US. Furthermore, these claims have been backed up by concrete examples of IRGC affiliates being discovered in the West. For instance, an Iranian academic who had been granted a visa for postdoctoral study at an American hospital was recently deported and revealed to have previously served as the head of the Basij at Sharif University in Tehran.
Domestically, the given individual had been tasked with monitoring Christians as well as other minority and dissident groups. This has naturally led Iranian opposition activists to question what types of assignments he might have been given to carry out after arriving in the US.
The WND puts this foreign monitoring in context with the more familiar domestic activities. It begins by noting that “it’s a surprise to no one that Iran’s radical Islamists monitor Christians and others inside their borders.” But the apparent attempts to control Iranian elements in foreign countries are also paralleled by the well-known IRGC efforts to crack down on Western nationals and their contacts inside Iran.
The latter phenomenon was put back into the spotlight on Tuesday when the families of people taken hostage in the Islamic Republic attended a hearing on Capitol Hill. The title of the hearing affirmed the perception that those captives were being “held for ransom,” and that sentiment was echoed by individual congressmen and by witnesses such as Babak Namazi, the brother of the imprisoned Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi. The father of the two men, 81-year-old Baquer Namazi, also holds American citizenship and was taken into custody by Iranian authorities after he traveled to the country to try to visit his son.
At least one other American citizen, the Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, is currently being held in Iran, pending an appeal in his case. All three men have been given ten year sentences on the basis of flimsy accusations of espionage. Additionally, an American permanent resident and information technology expert, Nizar Zakka has been held on similar charges since 2015. Another American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing since being taken into custody on Kish Island in 2007. Advocates for all five men were in attendance at the congressional hearing.
In its report on the hearings, EWTN noted that the US House of Representatives passed a resolution the following day, calling for the unconditional release of all American political prisoners in Iran. The resolution also urged US President Donald Trump to make advocacy for that release a high priority of his administration.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials have taken differing approaches as they strive to counter the criticism emerging out of incidents like the congressional hearing and subsequent resolution. In the first place, CBS News points out that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had used an interview with the network to deny that Baquer Namazi is even being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
“He's not behind bars. But he is not free to leave the country,” Zarif reportedly said. The claim has been vigorously disputed by the White House and by Babak Namazi, who has been in contact with people who have visited both his brother and his father in Evin.
But contrary to Zarif’s efforts to obscure the facts of the situation, other officials have made transparent efforts to leverage the imprisonments for the Iranian regime’s benefit. EA Worldview reported on Tuesday that Iranian judiciary chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani had attempted to equate the political imprisonments with the US government’s imprisonment of Iranian nationals who had broken American laws, including sanctions laws targeting Iran over its nuclear program, human rights violations, and support for terrorism.
Larijani explicitly demanded the release of all such prisoners, as well as the release of frozen Iranian assets, two billion dollars of which the US Supreme Court has awarded to victims of Iran-backed terrorist acts. The Iranian judiciary head went on to disregard the White House’s recent threats of serious consequences for the continued detention of the American prisoners. “Trump and his administration must know that threats will have no impact on Iran and that they better learn lessons from their predecessors,” Larijani said.