British-American dual national returned to prison in Iran after furlough


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A dual British and American national temporarily released from prison last week as part of an Iran-UK deal was returned to custody two days later, said his lawyer on Sunday.

Iranian prison officials let 66-year-old longtime environmentalist Morad Tahbaz leave prison last Wednesday, the same day two high-profile British citizens who had been detained in Iran for more than five years were released. released and repatriated to Britain.

The UK says it has secured Tahbaz’s leave, as well as the release and return of charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, after settling a long-standing debt to the Iran which had fueled tensions between the countries for decades.

But just two days after Tahbaz left prison and headed for his family’s home in Tehran, Iranian security forces forced him back to Evin prison, his lawyer based in Tehran said. Tehran.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know if he will be released or when,” Hojjat Kermani told The Associated Press. “He’s back in Evin for now.”

Iranian officials and state media have not acknowledged his return to prison. Iran’s mission to the United Nations also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did officials in Iran’s judicial office.

The State Department said it was aware of reports that Tahbaz had been returned to prison for allegedly being fitted with an ankle tag.

However, Tahbaz’s lawyer said he “wasn’t made aware of any ankle tag” and two days later he remained behind bars without any updates.

“Iran has made a commitment to the UK to furlough Morad Tahbaz,” the State Department said. “We are not a party to this arrangement, but we would join the UK in viewing anything short of Morad’s immediate dismissal as a breach of Iran’s commitment.”

The statement added: “We are urgently consulting with the UK on appropriate responses.”

Iranian security forces arrested Tahbaz in January 2018, as part of a broad crackdown on environmental activists in the Islamic Republic.

A prominent conservationist and board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation which seeks to protect endangered species, Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison along with his colleagues on vague charges of spying for America and undermining Iran’s security.

United Nations human rights experts have pushed for Tahbaz’s release, calling his detention arbitrary and expressing concern over his “life-threatening” health conditions and exposure to COVID-19 in his life. overcrowded prison cell.

Tahbaz’s family and international rights groups reject the charges against him, accusing the Iranian government of using dual citizenship as a diplomatic pawn in its deals for money and influence with the West, which Tehran denies.

His return to prison comes as world powers attempt to revive the 2015 deal that imposed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Earlier this month, after nearly a year of painstaking talks, negotiators in Vienna put their work on “pause”. They had almost reached an agreement until Russia demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, threatening to derail the process.

“We’re close to a potential deal, but we’re not there yet,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week.

He added: “We continue to work day and night to secure the release of our wrongfully detained citizens, and that includes British-American citizen Morad Tahbaz.

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