International human rights charities Redress and Free Nazanin Wednesday released a report describing Iranian authorities’ actions, especially in the midst of the nationwide Mahsa Amini protests, as “state hostage-taking.” The nearly 50-page report argues Iran has institutionalized state hostage-taking through the practice of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of foreign and dual nationals to obtain diplomatic leverage.
The report relied on testimony from 26 victims of hostage-taking and their family members and open-source information. The report examined Iranian authorities’ state hostage-taking practices across five stages including: initial detention and interrogation, court and judicial processes, torture and ill-treatment in prison, government and state media propaganda, and marketing and ultimately concluded, “Iran’s state hostage-taking practice breaches international human rights law.”
Since 2015, there have been at least 50 cases of state hostage-taking, and since the onset of the Mahsa Amini protests in September, Iranian authorities detained at least nine European nationals. One specific example the report points to is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British national detained by Iranian authorities in April 2016. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was just recently released from arbitrary detention in March with another British-Iranian hostage when the UK paid a £400 million debt to Iran.
State hostage-taking is governed by the UN International Convention against the Taking of Hostages in 1979 and the UK Taking of Hostages Act of 1982. State hostage-taking is defined, under those governing instruments, as the detaining or seizing of another person with a threaten to kill, injure or continue to detain them in order to compel a state or international actor to do or abstain from some action.
The report stresses the urgency of the issue to the international community, saying, “Iran is a market leader, but others are copying,” including Russian and China. As a result, the report calls for the international community to recognize Iran’s practices as state hostage-taking and to “[m]eaningfully challenge Iran’s systematic breaches of international human rights law” and hold Iranian authorities accountable through possible sanctions and other legal avenues.