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UK-US dual citizen held in Iran goes on hunger strike

LONDON — Morad Tahbaz, an environmental campaigner being held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike, his sister says, accusing the UK government of abandoning him after two other detainees were released.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori flew home last week, at the same time as the UK government repaid a longstanding debt to Tehran.

But Tahbaz, 69, who holds British, US and Iranian citizenship, was only released on furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison and was not allowed to leave the country.

After 48 hours he was taken back to prison, reportedly to have an ankle bracelet fitted, but he has not been heard from since.

“We have heard through a relative just now… that he’s been taken from the prison and he’s been taken to an undisclosed location and that he’s gone on hunger strike,” Tarane Tahbaz tells BBC radio.

“He continues to be used as a pawn on a chessboard. And it’s very distressing, we’re agonizing, we’re absolutely distraught, and we don’t know what the next moves are.”

Tarane Tahbaz says that her brother has cancer and has already lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in weight.

She accuses the government in London of not communicating with the family and not doing enough to secure Morad’s release.

“The only answer we’ve heard from them since is that it’s because Morad is also an American citizen,” she says.

“Does that make him less important or is that just a way of an excuse or a way to edge away from securing his release? We don’t know… we feel very abandoned.”

The British foreign ministry says in a statement that “Morad has now been moved from Evin prison to a residential location in Tehran.”

“We have been in touch with Morad’s family throughout the day and continue to lobby the Iranian authorities at the highest levels to allow him to return home immediately, as the Iranian government committed to doing,” it says.

A Tehran court in 2020 jailed Tahbaz for 10 years on charges of spying, conspiring with Washington and damaging national security.

He and seven others convicted on similar charges worked with environmental group Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to track endangered species and were arrested on suspicion of espionage in early 2018.

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