A British-Iranian university professor who actively campaigns against military action targeting his homeland has been detained in Iran by the country’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard, a semi-official Iranian news agency reported Thursday, becoming the latest dual national held there since the 2015 nuclear deal.
Computer scientist and mathematician, Abbas Edalat was one of several people arrested by the Guard over accusations of being part of a “network affiliated with Britain,” the Fars news agency said.
Fars, believed to be close to the Guard, cited an unnamed source that accused the group of leading 2009 unrest in Iran surrounding the disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fars offered no evidence supporting the allegation.
The British Foreign Office said late Wednesday night it was “urgently seeking information” after the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran first reported Edalat had been detained.
It’s unclear what charges he faces, though typically those arrested by the Guard face espionage or security-related charges and closed-door trials where guilty verdicts come down without the accused’s opportunity to defend himself.
Edalat is a professor at Imperial College London, a famed British university that Fars described as “playing a special role in training spies in different disguises to launch espionage operations inside Iran.” Fars offered no evidence to support the allegation. The university did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Edalat traveled to Iran for an academic workshop and was arrested April 15, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. He refused to post bail Wednesday, arguing he is innocent of the unknown charges and should be freed, the center said. The Guard also raided his home in Tehran.
“Iran’s continued arbitrary arrests of dual nationals without transparency and lack of due process is extremely concerning,” Hadi Ghaemi, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Iranian judiciary and the security establishment, particularly the Revolutionary Guard, are responsible for the well-being of these detainees.”
Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Edalat 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 be still 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.
Outside of the classroom, Edalat is an antiwar activist and founded the group called the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran. He previously wrote columns for The Guardian newspaper in Britain, his last in December 2011 saying Britain only wanted to “tighten the diplomatic, economic and military noose around the Islamic Republic.”
“Unjustified sanctions only pave the road to a military attack on Iran,” Edalat wrote. “The West must change course and enter into negotiations in good faith if a catastrophe for the region and the whole world is to be avoided.”