Despite the length of her detention, Zaghari-Ratcliff has apparently not been formally charged with any crime. According to IranWire, her parents have only been told that she is being held in connection with threats to national security. Such vague explanations are frequently invoked to explain arrests of dual-nationals. This was the case, for instance, with Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who was convicted of espionage after being held without charge for approximately a year as authorities built a case against and elicited a forced confession.
The same tactics are reportedly already being employed against Zaghari-Ratcliff. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty indicates that she has been held mostly in solitary confinement, and IranWire indicates that she was coerced into signing a unspecified confession, despite the absence of formal charges.
Meanwhile, Zaghari-Ratcliff’s 22 month-old daughter remains in the care of the woman’s parents, unable to return home to Zaghari-Ratcliff’s British husband Richard Ratcliff, because authorities have confiscated the child’s passport. Although there is not yet any indication of such tactics in the present case, Iranian authorities have frequently been accused of using threats against family members as a way of exerting psychological pressure on political prisoners and securing false confessions, which are then often broadcast in the media.
Zaghari-Ratcliff is by no means the only dual citizen currently in detention in the Islamic Republic. Now that it has been made public, her arrest has become another example of the surge of such arrests in the several months since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, which some thought would lead to broader reconciliation between Iran and the West. It is generally understood that the Revolutionary Guards and other hardliners are pushing back against these expectations by portraying activists and persons with foreign contacts or sympathies as spies and infiltrators.
Consequently, the sweeping arrests of dual nationals have been accompanied by similar sweeping arrests of protesters, journalists, and artists deemed to be out of step with the regime’s ideology. Not all of the targets of these arrests and prosecutions can even be identified as political or social activists. Earlier this year, two poets were forced to flee the country in lieu of serving long prison sentences, after they were convicted on charges of propaganda based upon poems they had published that had previously been cleared by Iran’s censorship authorities.
Other types of artists have been caught up in this same overzealous crackdown. For instance, Agence France-Presse on Monday recalled attention to the case of Keywan Karimi, a filmmaker who was charged with propaganda and insulting religious values after he created a documentary on graffiti in the city of Tehran.
“All I was doing was filming what was being written on the walls of Tehran,” the filmmaker was quoted as saying, insisting that he is not a political activist. His film has never been shown in his home country, and yet its purported offenses led to a six year prison sentence in 2015.
Karimi was released after international support helped to prompt the judiciary to suspend five years of his sentence. But hardline authorities are apparently eager to see additional punishment dispensed against him, and so they are calling for a concurrent sentence of 233 lashes to be carried out. He has also apparently been made the target of a range of other, unsubstantiated charges including adultery, alcohol consumption, and production of pornography.
Alongside foreigners and artists, certain minority groups also continue to be targeted by regime authorities in Iran, although the resulting punishments are not always carried out via arrest or prosecution. On Friday, an Iranian human rights group pointed out that in the case of the Baha’i religious minority, many individuals simply have their land and property legally stolen by the government.
The article specifically highlights the case of Ziaollah Motearefi, who spoke out after all of his attempts to redress his case with government institutions were ignored. Motearefi explained that he had purchased more than 120 acres of agricultural land but was never given a deed to the land upon completing his final payments. Subsequently, in 2011, he received notice from Ministry of Agriculture Jihad saying that it was foreclosing on his property because he had failed to pay rent to the government for land that he owned.
Confiscation of land is only one of the tactics that the regime uses as part of an apparent effort to put Baha’is under pressure to either convert to Islam or leave the country.
Many international activists note that young members of the Baha’i faith are routinely barred from receiving any form of higher education in Iran. Their advocates have responded by forming unofficial schools for the education of these people, but those schools have at times been forcibly shuttered and their instructors subjected to political imprisonment for their activities.
Naturally, activist political prisoners face additional pressures inside of prison, many of them constituting unofficial and extrajudicial punishments. One of the most prominent of these is the denial of medical treatment for extremely ill inmates. The group called renewed attention to this on Friday when it pointed out that the imprisoned human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani was suffering chronic heart problems and had lost an alarming amount of weight, but was still being denied medical furlough despite urgent appeals from his wife and daughter.
Soltani was among a number of other individuals listed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran on Sunday in a statement calling upon United Nations organizations and other human rights advocates to “take immediate and effective measures” to compel Iranian authorities to end the practice of systematically denying medical treatment to sick prisoners, especially political prisoners.