Iran detains British-Iranian, Iranian with British Council

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian-British national and an Iranian working for the British Council who traveled to Iran on a private trip to visit family have been detained in Iran, becoming the latest individuals with Western ties held in the Islamic Republic.

The British Foreign Office told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it was "urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities" after being asked about the detention of Iranian-British national Mahan Abdein.

Separately, the British Council said in a statement it was aware of the detention of a staffer following the arrest of Iranian national Aras Amiri.

Iranian officials and state media have not reported the arrests. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news website IranWire, created by Iranian-Canadian journalist and one-time Iran detainee Maziar Bahari, first reported the two new detentions.

Abdein, an Iran analyst and director of a company called Dysart Consulting, previously had appeared on Iranian state television, typically a sign of being at least sympathetic to Iran's government. He also wrote occasional columns for the website Middle East Monitor.

Circumstances of his arrest remained unclear Wednesday night.

Amiri, identified by IranWire as being a 23-year-old student at Kingston University, was arrested while visiting family on a private trip, the British Council said. Though the British Embassy in Tehran has reopened, the British Council has been closed since 2009. The council is a non-political organization that works in education, arts and culture.

"Despite an assertion that this individual has travelled to Iran for work this is not the case," the council said.

Their arrests come after the hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard's arrest of Abbas Edalat, a British-Iranian professor at Imperial College London who actively campaigns against military action targeting his homeland, became public last week.

The semi-official Fars news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, cited an unnamed source accusing Edalat and others from a British group of leading the 2009 unrest in Iran surrounding the disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fars offered no evidence supporting the allegation and named no one other than Edalat at the time.

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Edalat and Abdein cannot receive consular assistance. A U.N. panel in September described "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals" in Iran, which Tehran denied.

Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran say hard-liners in the Islamic Republic's security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. Iran and Britain have been discussing the possible release of some 400 million pounds held by London since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for a tank purchase that never happened.

A prisoner exchange in January 2016 that freed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans also saw the U.S. make a $400 million cash delivery to Iran the same day. That money too involved undelivered military equipment from the shah's era, though some U.S. politicians have criticized the delivery as a ransom payment.

Others with ties to the West detained in Iran include Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly "infiltrating" the country while doing doctoral research on Iran's Qajar dynasty. Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a member of Iran's 2015 nuclear negotiating team, is believed to be serving a five-year sentence on espionage charges. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, also is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling with her young daughter.

Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer, a former UNICEF representative who served as governor of Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province under the U.S.-backed shah, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, recently received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences respectively.

Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail last year after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for "collaboration with a hostile government." Shahini is believed to still be in Iran.

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years last year on espionage-related charges.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at . His work can be found at .

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