Hunger Strikers in Vienna Urge Iran to Free Jailed Dual Nationals

By Ahmad Rafat

Protesters are continuing their hunger strike outside a building in Vienna where the U.S. and Iran are holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.

Others have now joined the hunger strike, which was started by the former U.S. diplomat Barry Rosen on Jan. 19 to protest the detention, imprisonment, and prosecution of dual-nationals held “hostage” by the Islamic Republic. The veteran journalist Dr. Jamshid Barzegar was the first Iranian to travel from London to Vienna to join Rosen in the hunger strike. Dr. Barzegar is the former head of the German state-owned international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) Persian Service.

Meanwhile in Iran, the Iranian-Austrian hostage Kamran Ghaderi has also gone on hunger strike. So has Anousheh Ashouri, a 67-year-old Iranian-British man, from his cell in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Ashouri was jailed on espionage charges when he visited his mother in Tehran in 2017. He was convicted of “spying for Israel” and given a 12-year prison sentence.

Rosen, 77, was one of the 52 Americans held hostage by hardline students — the so-called followers of the “Imam Line” (the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic) –- at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981 (444 days). The students released the hostages after the U.S. and Iran signed the “Algiers Accord” on Jan. 19, 1981.

In an interview with Kayhan Life on the third day of his hunger strike, Rosen said: “It is very simple, I care about hostage-taking [used] as a bargaining chip by the Islamic Republic of Iran. I was released 41 years ago after 444 days and returned home. Thinking about those days, I said [to myself that] I must do something because the hostage-taking by Iran [has been] going on for more than four decades.”

On the second day of his hunger strike, Rosen met with Robert Malley, the U.S. Special Representative on Iran and the lead negotiator in the Vienna talks.

“The meeting with Robert Malley was good,” Rosen told Kayhan Life. “We were both very candid with each other. I do not think it is necessary to go into the details of our conversation. We both care about the four Americans and a dozen of Europeans held hostage in Iran.”

Rosen said he wanted to meet with the Iranian delegation at the Vienna talks.

“I look forward to meeting with the Iranian delegation, but they have yet to respond to my messages requesting a meeting, and I doubt they ever will,” Rosen said. “I’m calling on Iran to release the hostages immediately.”

Rosen urged the U.S. and the European governments to highlight the release of “hostages” as the precondition to any agreement.

“I think the role of the U.S. and the West is to press Iran to release all hostages,” Rosen argued. “If there is an accord or political agreement with no kind of pressure, and Iran, as usual, takes hostages, this would be just a piece of paper which Iran will use whenever it needs to get cash.”

Rosen noted that the Islamic Republic’s actions, including taking hostages, contradicted true Iranian traditions and culture.

“Iranians are known for their hospitality (mehmannavazi),” Rosen explained. “Iranians are good to others and take care of others.” He quoted the great poet Saadi, who wrote that human beings were part of each other, in creation, and of one essence. If one part was afflicted with pain, other parts would empathise with that pain, or else they did not deserve to be called human.

Many people have joined the hunger strike in Vienna in recent days, including Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national who was arrested on Sept. 18, 2015, in Iran and charged with “espionage.” Mr. Nizar, who holds U.S. permanent residency, served as the secretary-general of the Arab Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Organization (IJMA3) in Washington D.C. Iran eventually released Nizar on June 11, 2019, following a request by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Speaking to Kayhan Life about his trip to Vienna and taking part in the hunger strike, Dr. Barzegar said: “Barry Rosen is a 77-year-old American who has traveled a long way and endured freezing temperatures to go on a hunger strike in Vienna. His actions should be enough to give Iranians a big push to join him.”

“Another Iranian poet, Baktash Abtin, tragically died in the Islamic Republic recently,” Dr. Barzegar noted. “So I thought, while we must unite in our demand for the release of all Iranians whose only crime is to be Iranian or hold dual citizenships from the Islamic Republic prisons, we should also use this occasion to protest the murder of Baktash Abtin and show our support for all prisoners on hunger strike in Iran.”

Baktash Abtin, a jailed Iranian poet, writer, and filmmaker, died in hospital on Jan. 8 from Covid-19. Mr. Abtin received outside medical care only after contracting coronavirus for the second time. Prison authorities transferred Abtin from the prison infirmary to a hospital too late, which caused his death.

“Barry Rosen has fulfilled his civic duties by going on hunger strike,” Dr. Barzegar said. “It is now our turn to fight for the release of political prisoners and dual nationals and also shoulder the responsibility of protecting all prisoners.”

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