The Iranian province of Khuzestan, located on the Persian Gulf and the border with Iraq, has World Heritage sites to offer. According to dry reports from the Iranian state media, a German national is said to have photographed oil installations in a restricted area – and was arrested for it. There is no official information on this so far; the German embassy in Tehran is trying to clarify.
If the reports are confirmed, they would fit into a pattern: Western diplomats accuse the regime of hostage diplomacy. Foreigners are arbitrarily arrested by the secret services, mostly the Revolutionary Guards, under flimsy pretexts and convicted of espionage or other offenses in opaque proceedings. The goal: to build up a bargaining chip with the West. Iran uses the prisoners as leverage to free its own nationals, especially members of the security apparatus, but also to exert political pressure.
Prisoners from Germany, USA, Great Britain
According to the Federal Foreign Office, dual nationals who also have Iranian citizenship are particularly at risk. Since the outbreak of nationwide protests in September, the situation has drastically worsened; The ministry speaks of a “large number of arbitrary arrests of foreign nationals”. Iran’s judiciary announced at the end of November that they had arrested 40 foreigners for taking part in the protests.
In addition to Germans, Iran is detaining citizens of at least four other EU countries, as well as citizens of the USA, Great Britain and Canada. The fate of these people plays a significant role in the question of how to deal with Tehran and the reaction to the suppression of the protests, which had their origin in the death of the Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini through abuse in police custody. They have become the biggest challenge facing the Islamic Republic regime since at least the 2009 Green Revolution.
For months, representatives of the Iranian diaspora have been demanding a tougher approach from the federal government as well. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was accused of proclaiming a feminist foreign policy but not supporting the protests unconditionally, for example in order not to endanger a possible revival of the nuclear agreement. However, there have been no further negotiations since the summer.
Specifically, many people of Iranian origin, but also representatives of the Union faction in the Bundestag, such as foreign politician Norbert Röttgen, are calling for the US to do the same and classify the Revolutionary Guards in the EU as a terrorist organization and subject them to appropriate sanctions. There are also increasing numbers of advocates in the factions of the traffic light coalition, including Green Party leader Omid Nouripour and FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai, both of whom come from Iran.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also spoke out in favor of this on Tuesday. Support has grown among EU countries since a string of executions. Great Britain is also considering this step after Iran hanged dual national Alireza Akbari. In addition, there are calls in Germany for Tehran’s ambassador Mahmoud Farazandeh to be expelled from the country and for the German representation to be downgraded to the level of chargé d’affaires.
A tougher pace could harm the detainees
The Union has requested a Bundestag debate for this Thursday, probably also to increase the pressure on Baerbock. On Wednesday, the ambassadors of the EU states in Brussels discussed new penalties. Baerbock is open to examining a classification of the Garden. However, the Federal Foreign Office does not currently see the requirements under EU law as being met. At least one Member State should be investigating or criminally prosecuting terrorist acts.
In the interest of the best possible consular support for imprisoned Germans, it is also important to have a fully functional embassy in Tehran, argues the Federal Foreign Office. The reaction to the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador would be that Germany’s ambassador would also have to leave Iran. In addition, the federal government has not even thrown the Russian ambassador out of the country.
However, Röttgen points out that the EU can also base sanctions on corresponding procedures in third countries; a possibility that the Federal Foreign Office also sees. The CDU politician points out that the European Court of Justice has decided that “the EU’s anti-terror regime also applies to acts of terrorism and legal prosecution for such offenses in third countries.” Such a condemnation of members of the Revolutionary Guards is in the United States. In EU law, an examination by the member states is provided for, so the narrow definition of terrorism of the EU must be fulfilled.
In addition, a consensus of all Member States would be required for listing. There had been no signs of this recently, precisely because countries such as France and Belgium feared that the situation of their imprisoned citizens could continue to deteriorate. Tobias Billström, the foreign minister of Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, pointed out that the Revolutionary Guards are already subject to sanctions in the EU for human rights violations. These went beyond the terrorism measures. But he understands that a terror listing has symbolic value. However, it is more likely that the foreign ministers will first decide on new sanctions against other people and entities in Iran next week.