January 23, 2019

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British-Iranian Scholar Returns Home After Detention

British-Iranian Scholar Returns Home After Detention
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LONDON — A prominent British-Iranian scholar detained in Iran since April has returned to Britain, according to an advocacy organization he helped found.

The scholar, Abbas Edalat, a professor of computer science and mathematics at Imperial College London, was taken into custody by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on April 15 while in Tehran to visit family and attend an academic workshop. He is a founder of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.

The group said in a statement on Saturday that Mr. Edalat had come home earlier in the week. It did not specify the reasons for his detention or release but suggested that the Iranian authorities had concluded they may have erred in holding him.

“It increasingly appears, as we had suspected, that his detention in spring in Iran was a case of misinformation and misunderstanding by the Iranian security apparatus,” the group said.

Increasing tensions between Iran, the United States and its allies have made such incidents more likely, the group said.

Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed Mr. Edalat’s return in an email on Tuesday.

There has been no mention of Mr. Edalat’s detention or release in Iran’s state-run media.

The case highlighted the plight of at least 30 dual citizens believed to have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in recent years.

Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, making it difficult for foreign authorities to provide assistance to the detained, even if they hold a foreign passport.

The British Foreign Office posted an advisory in September warning citizens of Iranian descent against all but essential travel to Iran.

Mr. Edalat was among at least three British-Iranian dual citizens detained by Iran. The country has been accused of using the detention of foreign citizens of Iranian descent on security grounds as bargaining leverage in its foreign policy. But Mr. Edalat, whose group opposes sanctions against Iran, seemed an unlikely choice.

His arrest came at a time of especially heightened frictions between Iran and the West, as President Trump was preparing to withdraw the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal that eased sanctions on Iran in return for verifiable pledges of peaceful nuclear work.

The Trump administration has since reimposed onerous sanctions on Iran even as other countries, including Britain, have pledged to honor the nuclear accord. But Britain has joined the United States and its Western allies in condemning Iranian missile launches.

Britain is also entangled in a longstanding legal dispute with Iran over an order for British tanks placed in 1976, before the country’s Islamist revolution, that was paid for but never delivered.

Whether Mr. Edalat’s detention was linked to any of these tensions is unclear.

“There are people in Iran that are deeply suspicious of Western intelligence operations to try to destabilize the government,” said Sanam Vakil, a research fellow specializing in Iran at Chatham House, a London-based policy institute. “And these people are using dual nationals as hostages.”

In 2016 Iran arrested Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, a British-Iranian national, as she and her daughter Gabriella, then 22 months old, tried to board a flight back to London after visiting relatives.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliff worked with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which promotes freedom of expression, but both her employer and her family have maintained that she had no professional dealings in Iran.

Still, she was accused of trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic, was tried on secret charges and was sentenced to five years in prison. Her daughter remained in the custody of her grandparents in Iran.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who has made securing her release a priority, on Tuesday urged people to remember Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliff as they celebrated Christmas, in a holiday message posted on Twitter. “Many more like her — we will not forget them today #FreeNazanin,” he wrote, quoting a popular hashtag used in the highly publicized campaign for her release.

After his arrest in April, Mr. Edalat wanted to avoid attention from the news media, the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran reported.

His family tried to post bail for him, but according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, another advocacy group, he refused, arguing that as an innocent man he should be released without conditions.

Mr. Edalat has been a vocal opponent of foreign intervention in Iran, as the head of the advocacy group he helped found in 2005 and as the author of published opinion articles. In 2011, he said “the hawkish western attitude to Iran, based as it is on unfounded rumors about a nuclear weapons program, resembles that of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.”





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