The names of three Iranians accused of playing a key role in state-sponsored hostage-taking have been read out by British parliamentarians as part of a drive to see them sanctioned in the UK.
Evin Prison official Ali Ghanaatkar, former prison director Gholamreza Ziaei and state TV producer Ali Rezvani were identified among a list of 13 human rights abusers from around the world. The list was read out by Labour MP Chris Bryant, who co-chairs the country’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Magnitsky Sanctions.
Lawmakers are pushing for people and entities involved in Iran’s hostage-taking to be designated by the Foreign Office under Magnitsky sanctions, which can include such measures as targeted travel bans and asset freezes, as a means of holding known human rights abusers accountable.
Others named on the initial list of 13 included Chinese actors linked to the mass atrocities committed against Uyghur Muslims, Rwandan officials over the enforced disappearance of Paul Rusesabagina, and Sudanese officers suspected of torturing and killing protesters during the recent military coup.
Speaking at the debate at Westminster Hall on Wednesday, APPG co-chair Chris Bryant said of the Iranian trio: “Since 1979, Iran’s arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of foreign and dual nationals for diplomatic leverage over foreign states has escalated, with state-sponsored hostage-taking becoming an institutional part of foreign policy.
He highlighted the cases of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, two British nationals currently arbitrarily detained in Iran for five and a half, and four and a half years respectively. “Our hearts go out to them,” he said.
In September the charity the Free Nazanin Campaign and REDRESS submitted a dossier to new UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss asking her to sanction 10 people it has so far identified as having had a hand in the practice in the Islamic Republic. The same file will be submitted to authorities in the US, the European Union and Canada.
For at least eight years until February 2021, Ali Ghanaatkar was a judge at Branch 33 (Sub-Branch 1) of the court at Evin Prison, and has been identified as the prison’s effective head of interrogations. Survivors and their families, Bryant said, identified him as being involved in forceful interrogations and bringing false charges against hostages. Amongst others, Ghanaatkar played a decisive role in building cases against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Swedish-Iranian dual national Ahmad Reza Jalali.
Gholamreza Ziaei was head of Evin Prison from July 2019 to July 2020. The prison itself is already sanctioned in the US and the EU for mass human rights abuses. The vast majority of hostages are held at Evin and often undergo prolonged solitary confinement and torture.
Amnesty International reports that after Ziaei’s appointment at the helm of the prison, political and security detainees experienced worsening ill-treatment, including new restrictions on phone calls and visitation rights and the removal of health insurance for prisoners. The EU sanctioned Ziaei on April 12 of this year.
Ali Rezvani is a producer and reporter for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, widely accused of having served as an “interrogator-journalist” taking hostages’ forced confessions for the infamous 20:30 program on state TV. Bryant said played a key role in spreading misinformation and “peddling propaganda” on detained dual and foreign nationals including Canadian-Iranian Kavous Seyed Emami and Chinese-born American Xiyue Yang. These videos used forcibly obtained or fake documents to portray the hostages as “enemies of Iran”.
There is also evidence of Rezvani’s involvement with intelligence agencies. He was recognised by Seyed-Emami’s son as one of the IRGC agents who stormed his parents’ apartment to find evidence and harassed his mother for information, forcing her to “confess” after which she had to be hospitalised. Human rights advocate Masih Alinejad has also said Ali Rezvani went to her family home in Iran with two intelligence agents to obtain a false testimony against her from her mother. Rezvani also conducted a coerced interview for TV with dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam four days after he was sentenced to death after being abducted by the IRGC.