The singular ordeal of Iran’s dual nationals

The inter-agency rivalry between Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organisation is not likely to end soon.
Saturday 05/10/2019
Iranian-American national Baqer Namazi (L) and his son Siamak. (AP)
Good case study. Iranian-American national Baqer Namazi (L) and his son Siamak. (AP)

Because of Iran’s propaganda machinery, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, has become a living martyr.

Hospitalised in New York and undergoing treatment for cancer, he was denied by the US Department of State a visit from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose movements in the United States are extremely restricted.

However, the State Department issued a statement promising “travel request will be granted if Iran releases a US citizen” imprisoned in Iran. Who is that US citizen and what is the ordeal of Iran’s dual nationals?

Tehran has a long tradition of imprisoning Iranian dual nationals as bargaining chips with the other countries. Most prominently, Iranian-American nationals, but more recently also Iranian-British and Iranian-French dual nationals.

Iran does not officially recognise dual nationality of Iranian citizens. When members of the Iranian expatriate community visit Iran, Iranian embassies will not grant them visas as foreign nationals but demands them to apply for passport and travel documents issued by the embassy, after which they can legally enter Iran as Iranian citizens.

Once the dual nationals desire to exit Iranian territory, Tehran de facto recognises their non-Iranian citizenship and they must produce their US or EU passports to document they are allowed legal entry into their destinations.

This arrangement puts the dual nationals in a precarious position in which they can be denied help from foreign governments if they find themselves at odds with the Iranian legal system. It is a highly politicised legal system, which is manipulated by the intelligence services in the regime’s dealings with foreign governments. In other cases, dual nationals become hostages in the domestic struggle for power within the regime.

Siamak Namazi, the head of strategic planning at Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum, and his father, Baqer Namazi, provide a good case study.

The Iranian-American dual nationals were arrested by the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and later sentenced to 10 years in prison for “co-operating with a hostile foreign power.” There is, however, every reason to believe the Namazis are victims of the struggle for power between Iranian President Hassan Rohani and the IRGC.

Rohani triumphantly negotiated the nuclear deal with the United States and was trying to open Iran’s economy to foreign investments with intermediaries such as the Namazis. The IRGC did not see any need for intermediaries and desired to make direct deals with foreign investors. By arresting the Namazis, the IRGC also demonstrated the impotence of the Rohani government.

Iranian-Swedish dual national Ahmadreza Djalali, a specialist in emergency medicine, and Iranian-Canadian dual national Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, accountant and adviser to the governor of Iran’s Central Bank, both arrested in 2016, provide other interesting cases.

Djalali was arrested, convicted of “spreading corruption on Earth” and sentenced to death after forced confessions.

Dorri-Esfahani’s ordeal is even more bizarre because the Ministry of Intelligence, which is closer to Rohani, insists he is innocent while the rival Intelligence Organisation of the IRGC says he is a foreign spy.

The inter-agency rivalry between Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organisation and, more fundamentally, the struggle for power between Rohani and the IRGC is not likely to end soon.

This, unfortunately, means the singular ordeal of Iran’s dual nationals such as the Namazis, Djalali, Dorri-Esfahani and many others will continue.