Canadian Professors Arrest Highlights Continued Threat to Dual Nationals, Others

She was initially arrested on March 10 and subjected to extensive interrogations regarding her visit to the country and her research into the role of women in politics in Muslim countries. Hoodfar was later released from custody but authorities retained her personal belongings and passport, and she was barred from leaving Iran. She was re-arrested last week by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, for reasons that have not been specified.

The New York Times emphasized in its coverage of the incident that it was indicative of the ongoing repression facing dual nationals, who are viewed with suspicion by Iranian hardliners or are used in propaganda regarding supposed attempts to infiltrate and undermine the Islamic theocracy. This repression has apparently intensified in the wake of the implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement early this year, as Iranian authorities strive to push back against the expectation of greater opening between the Islamic Republic and the Western world.

The Times points out that dozens of dual nationals and persons with ties to the West have been summoned for interrogation in recent months, mostly by the intelligence wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Threats against detainees or their families are often used by Iranian law enforcement to illicit forced confessions, many of which are then broadcast on state media to support the narratives underlying seemingly arbitrary arrests.

Such threats may be implicit in the arrest of Professor Hoodfar, as well. The 65 year-old woman suffered a stroke last year and is afflicted with a rare neurological disorder, according to IranWire. Sources close to Hoodfar report that in addition to having her belongings confiscated and being denied access to legal representation, she has also been denied visitation. Relatives have been barred from so much as conveying medication to her while she remains under detention. And prison authorities have reportedly expressed no interest in learning the details of her medical needs.

The denial of medical treatment, including life-saving medical treatment, is a well-known repressive tactic in Iranian jails. It is frequently reported in the cases of political prisoners, as well as in instances where long-term hunger strikes have put the life of an inmate at risk as he or she protests for better treatment or attention to a neglected case file. On Wednesday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported upon one example of these situations.

In the first place, Hamid Babaei, a PhD student who has served nearly three years as a political prisoner in Rajai Shahr, has been arbitrarily barred from attending dental appointments that were pre-arranged and cleared by the judiciary, and were meant to address severe gum disease and other dental problems that have grown steadily worse during his time in prison.

In the second place, the International Campaign indicates that a Christian convert by the name of Maryam Naghash Zargaran is currently on a five-day leave from prison following a life-threatening hunger strike, but has vowed to re-initiate that protest if the judiciary refuses to consider her request for permanent release. Hunger strikers and sick inmates are sometimes granted furlough or transferred to hospital when they reach dire health conditions, but they are also frequently returned to prison before receiving adequate medical treatment, and against the advice of doctors.

Zargaran’s case serves as a reminder that Christian converts and other religious minorities stand alongside dual nationals as recognizable targets of the currently ongoing Iranian crackdown. She is serving a four year sentence for allegedly preaching Christianity, and she is only one of many receiving similar punishments. Also on Wednesday, the International Campaign reported upon the case of Ebrahim Firoozi, who was sentenced to five years for forming a Christian group.

Firoozi appealed this sentence one year ago, but the appeal has still not been adjudicated, thus illustrating some of the ways in which the Iranian judiciary ignores its own rules or manipulates the law in order to exert additional pressure where political motives are involved.

The same point is illustrated by the case of Hamid Babaei. As well as blocking his medical furlough, Iranian authorities have refused to acknowledge requests for conditional release, which may be granted by a judge now that Babaei has served one third of his six year sentence. He received this jail term alongside a four year suspended sentence, on charges of “spying and contact with enemy states.” But Babaei insists that his arres was motivated by the fact that he had refused to use his position as a PhD student in Belgium to gather intelligence there for the Iranian regime.

Neglect of Babaei’s medical problems is one form of extra-judicial pressure that is familiar among Iranian political prisoners. As noted above, threats against family members is another, and this also has been part of Babaei’s case, according to the International Campaign. After the prisoner’s wife spoke out against his condition, she was arrested and given f six-month suspended sentence in 2014.

This is arguably reminiscent of the new case surrounding Homa Hoodfar. IranWire reports that her family did not initially speak out about her case prior to her re-arrest last week, because Hoodfar herself had told them not to go public but to wait for the apparent misunderstanding to be resolved. However, on the basis of other political prisoners’ experiences, there is reason to believe that she was coached to say this by interrogators, who tend to threaten that publicity will only make such cases worse.

Meanwhile, in other situations, the authorities happily court public exposure and utilize Iranian state media in order to showcase arrests or other instances of repression that might serve as examples to other people who would deviate from the regime’s ideology. Several recent examples of this have made headlines in the West, as well.

Last month, state media boasted of a sting operation that had led to criminal charges against 29 people who were involved in a modeling network that posted images of women without their legally mandated headscarves. Not long afterward, state media also openly reported upon the disruption of a graduation party in which men and women who had drunk alcohol and danced together were arrested, tried, and given 99 lashes each, all in the space of 24 hours. Other such disruptions have followed, and those reports continue to make their way to international media from Iranian propaganda networks.

On Thursday, IranWire reported that a number of young Iranians had gathered at a shopping mall to celebrate the end of school exams, but were met with law enforcement officers who dispersed the gathering with tear gas. A day later, Fars News Agency decried the gathering as the product of a “rebellious” generation, and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting released a video of the event bearing the title “a crowd of transgressors.”