Friday, November 4, 2016

How foreign hostages have become a lucrative business for Iran

The Iranian regime now has more incentive to take foreign nationals living there as hostages and ransom them to their respective countries for handsome amounts. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Foreign nationals and people of dual nationalities in Iran now have more reason to fear being arrested and incarcerated by security forces. That’s because the ruling regime now has more incentive to take hostages and ransom them to their respective countries for handsome amounts.
What led us here? The failed policy aimed at taming the nefarious activities of the Iranian regime through concessions and appeasement. In January, the U.S. government and the Iranian regime performed a prisoner swap, which also involved Washington paying $1.7 billion in hard cash to Tehran, including $400 million that was forked over to Iran on the same day that the American hostages were released.
While the Obama administration maintains the payout was not a ransom and was unrelated to the prisoner exchange, others beg to differ, including members of Congress. So do Iranian officials, who boasted after the fact and have now become more aggressive in their hostage-taking tactics in order to extract more from their western counterparts.
In fact, recent months have seen a significant increase in the Iranian regime’s actions against foreigners visiting the country. Since the January prisoner swap, at least six dual-national Iranians have been arrested, and others have received heavy prison sentences from the Iranian regime’s judiciary under bogus charges of acting against the state.
What’s interesting is that none of the hostages have any history of activism against the regime — with some even having records of lobbying for the Iranian regime abroad — which makes them mere bargaining chips that will get the regime more concessions from the West. The present situation is further testament to the state of lawlessness and judiciary corruption in Iran.
Iranian officials are making multi-million dollar demands for the release of some of the prisoners, and according to sources close to the Iranian regime, demands might be raised to as much as $2 billion. This is further proof that January’s ransom has only whetted the appetite of the mullahs for more.
To their benefit, foreign nationals have a voice abroad that will offer them a measure of reprieve and immunity from the horrors that have become the notorious hallmark of Iran’s prisons. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the tens of thousands political prisoners executed without fair trials, and the thousands of inmates who continue to linger in Iran’s dungeons, awaiting their fate under conditions that a recent United Nations report describes as deeply troubling.
These developments might not be in line with President Obama’s vision of a more civilized and cooperative Iran emerging after the signing of the nuclear deal and the lifting of economic sanctions. But they’re a perfect reflection of the Iranian regime’s unalterable nature, and its long track record of holding human lives and freedom hostage to further its own goals.
This is a road that previous U.S. administrations have already tried to their dismay. Consider, for example, the Iran-Contra affair, in which Reagan administration officials negotiated with Tehran over the release of Americans held hostage by Hezbollah, the Iranian regime’s proxy in Lebanon, in exchange for an arms deal. The hostages were released, but Hezbollah continued to kidnap more hostages afterwards.
History is repeating itself — perhaps in a much more dangerous way — and incentivized by the lack of firmness toward its trampling of international laws and human principles, the Iranian regime is continuing to arrest and incarcerate foreign nationals in order to strengthen its hand in its interactions with its counterparts and peers.
Only a firm policy can steer the Iran policy in the right direction — one that does not overlook any of Tehran’s misdeeds, and holds the Iranian regime to account for the crimes it has committed against its own people and across the world.
The next U.S. president will have a chance to adopt the right approach and show some backbone and determination. In the meantime, lives will be hanging in the balance.
Amir Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist.

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