Europeans imprisoned in Iran face torture, long sentences and, for some, even the death penalty. Euronews spoke to some of their family members about their hopes and fears.

Mariam Clarens says her life changed forever after her 68-year-old mother Nahid Taghavi was arrested in October 2020 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Taghavi was accused of disrupting national security and spreading propaganda against the state. In fact, Taghavi was an Iranian-German activist who had devoted his life to women’s and workers’ rights in Iran.

Although Taghavi was a dual citizen, her German passport was not protected.

“Iran has no respect for international law and does not recognize dual citizenship,” said RaphaĆ«l Chenuil-Hazan, president of the French non-governmental organization Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, which fights against the death penalty.

Taghavi, whose health is weak, has endured several months in solitary confinement. Last summer, she had to leave Evin Prison to seek medical attention. However, this was cancelled.

“The authorities took her from the hospital right after the German Chancellor’s speech condemning human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” her daughter said. “You see there is always a connection between the actions of Iran and Germany. The reaction is always to hurt the prisoners. Shame on me, I did not care about human rights violations in Iran before my mother was arrested. My bubble suddenly burst.”

Claren, who grew up in Germany, has become a full-time activist fighting for justice in Iran since her mother’s arrest.

According to international relations expert Thierry Coville, Iran regularly uses dual citizens and Europeans as bargaining chips. “They are convinced that there is no point in negotiating from equal to equal. There is no interest in traditional diplomacy with the West, the European Union or the United States,” he explains.

A “nightmare” for families

Vida Mehrannia’s husband Ahmad Reza Jalali, a dual Swedish-Iranian citizen, was arrested by the Iranian authorities in 2016.

Accused of espionage and sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jalali had traveled to Tehran to attend an academic conference.

The couple’s children were four and 13 years old when he was arrested. They are now 11 and 20 years old respectively. “For our family it’s a nightmare and we don’t know when it will end,” says Vida.

Jalali is not the first Swedish-Iranian to await a death sentence. At the beginning of May, Habib Chaab, also a dual-national Swedish-Iranian, was executed. Accused of organizing a crime against a military parade in 2018, Chaab had been living in Sweden for over a decade when he was abducted by Iranian agents from Turkey in 2020.

His execution was “strongly condemned” by Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative in a statement released on May 6.

Condemnations that did not satisfy Jalali’s family, whose distress was greatly amplified by the news.

“It was terrible to find out about his execution. We are so nervous and stressed about what will happen to my husband. He has been given a court date four times now but it has not yet been carried out,” says Vida.

Although many European political prisoners were arrested before Iran’s latest wave of political unrest, sparked by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini last September, this has affected the number of executions. According to the Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), the number of executions increased by 75 percent in 2022.

Vida did not speak to her husband for two and a half years, while he spent long periods in solitary confinement. But now she can regularly contact him for short phone calls.

According to Vida, her husband was promised release in exchange for confessing to a crime on Iranian state TV: “They told him if you don’t make this confession, your family will be in danger in Sweden. They told him what to say .”

As the years go by, hopes for his release diminish: “In the beginning I had a lot of hope. But a lot of time has passed and I feel up and down because it’s so tough. I can’t believe that we have to go on with this every day. “

Many of Iran’s political prisoners, as well as Europeans, are housed in Evin Prison, located in the Evin neighborhood of Tehran.

Mehrunnia explains that communication with other hostage families has been key to coping: “We are part of a WhatsApp group, where we share information with each other about how things are going.”

But talking to other families is also a harsh reminder of the gravity of her husband’s situation. “We cannot compare, all cases are different. Some are sentenced to five or ten years – but my husband to death.”

Those who got away

For some exiled Iranians, Europe is now home. This is the case for Massoumeh Raouf.

Raouf was only 20 years old when he was arrested on the street in September 1981. Accused of collaborating with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, she said Euronews that she was sentenced to “20 years in prison, during a 10-minute mock trial by a judge under Sharia law.”

After eight months in prison, she managed to escape and sought political exile in France in the 1980s. She has continued her fight for Iranian justice from abroad, with the National Council of Iranian Resistance. “I am grateful that France gave me the chance to come here,” she says.