But the joy about it is not unclouded. Because with their fall, Tehran’s hostage diplomacy can celebrate a new success. Experts fear that as a result, more foreigners could soon be arrested in Iran.
“Most of these arrests are nothing more than hostage-taking,” says Guido Steinberg from the Science and Politics Foundation. At first glance, it is not in line with the general behavior of states to use the methods of terrorism or organized crime.
“But the Iranians have been using this political leverage since the hostage-taking in the Tehran US embassy 40 years ago.” There are dozens of cases that have proven this tactic. “The leadership in Tehran is often concerned with freeing Iranian terrorists who have been convicted abroad. For that you need bargaining chip. ”
In the case of Moore-Gilbert, it worked out well. The University of Melbourne Middle East expert was arrested in 2018 after a conference in the holy city of Qom; she is said to have been selected as a victim by the Revolutionary Guard because her partner comes from Israel. A court sentenced her to ten years in prison for espionage for the Jewish state. Moore-Gilbert and the Australian authorities denied the allegation.
Three Iranian agents have been released in Thailand
In months of secret talks, Australia and Iran finally agreed on a deal in which Moore-Gilbert was exchanged for three Iranian agents in Thailand. The trio had been in custody since 2012 for allegedly planning an attack on an Israeli diplomat.
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It is not known how many foreigners are being held in Iran for political reasons. But we now know that there are four German-Iranians among them. One of them is Nahid Taghavi. She has been in detention for more than a month – in isolation, with no visit or contact with the outside world.
According to her daughter, from one day to the next the architect was abducted by Revolutionary Guards to the notorious Evin prison on the outskirts of Tehran. Mainly political prisoners are locked up there. Iran accuses Taghavi of being a “security risk”.
Should Germany be put under pressure because of a terrorist trial?
The 66-year-old has lived in Cologne since 1983. The architect commutes between Germany and Iran. It is unclear why she was abducted just now. But observers suspect a connection with a terrorist process in Belgium.
An Iranian diplomat has to answer in court there. He is said to be the mastermind behind a failed attack on a mass rally by Iranians in exile and was extradited from Germany after his arrest in 2018. Should Taghavi’s imprisonment exert pressure on Germany so that it can influence the Belgian court process in the interests of Iran?
So far there is no evidence of this. But what is clear is that Iran’s hostage diplomacy has now become so much a part of its foreign policy that officials speak openly about the practice.
“Let’s have an exchange,” said Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the US last year; at least three US citizens are currently in Iranian custody. Even under the hardliner President Donald Trump, the two countries exchanged prisoners several times.
Americans and Iranians are well versed in this delicate business. During the revolutionary year 1979, students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage. They were only released in January 1981, a few minutes after the inauguration of then-US President Ronald Reagan.
The agreement reached obliged Washington to release Iranian assets again. A few years later, the Reagan administration sent modern weapons to Iran via Israel in order to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
The mullah regime is also doing everything it can to fight the Iranian opposition worldwide. “Monarchists, liberals, leftists and other opponents are taken very seriously by those in power in Tehran,” says expert Steinberg. So serious “that representatives of the opposition are repeatedly murdered abroad too”. Or kidnapped like Jamshid Sharmahd.
Abducted on a business trip
According to his family, the German-Iranian resident in California was kidnapped on a business trip in Dubai at the end of July and brought to Iran. A short time later, Tehran admitted to having captured Sharmahd in a “complex operation”.
The Ministry of Intelligence released a blindfolded photo of the 67-year-old. The leadership in Tehran accuses Sharmahd of being the mastermind behind an attack on a mosque. In 2008 14 people are said to have died. On state television he incriminated himself with the words: “You needed explosives and we got it.”
But his family is certain that the confession was coerced. They do not know how the kidnapped person who faces the death penalty is doing. It is also questionable whether Germany can help him. Iran does not recognize dual citizenships and therefore refuses access to diplomatic representatives.
“I expect Germany to get my father out of prison”
Nevertheless, Sharmahd’s daughter Gazelle is relying on the federal government. She recently told the “Spiegel”: “I expect Germany to get my father out of prison.”
It looks like Omid Nouripour. “The federal government must resolutely campaign for the release of the Germans in Iran,” demands the foreign policy spokesman for the Green parliamentary group. “It is obvious that the German citizens are being abused as hostages so that the regime can free its people in Europe.”