As Obama Pays Ransom, Iran Jails More Americans

Why the Mullahs are taking more Americans as hostages.

Iran is quietly arresting American citizens and taking them as hostages in order to utilize them as pawns for extracting economic concessions or receiving political and financial gains.

President Obama and his administration have played a crucial role in encouraging Iran to conduct such nefarious actions. In the most egregious example, a recent report revealed that, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff who were briefed, “The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran” when four Iranian-Americans were recently released.

This critical issue raises several questions. For example, why would the administration pay American taxpayer money to a government that ranks first in the world in executing people and in human rights abuses? Why would President Obama pay for the release of Iranian-Americans (including Jason Rezaian, who sympathized with the Iranian government in some of his writings), but not for the release of those Americans who were slaughtered by ISIS?

As part of a string of arrests of American citizens, the Iranian authorities confirmed that they have arrested yet another US citizen, Robin Shahini, who was visiting his ailing mother. Mr. Shanini was not a political or human rights activist. The Iranian government arrested him on vague charges such as conducting crimes against the Islamic Republic. The Iranian government warned his family not to speak with the media.

Iran’s Supreme Leader and his institutions of power – the Islamist judiciary systems, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the intelligence wing (Etela’at), the militia group Basij, and the presidential office – are behind these waves of arrests targeting American citizens.

We were repeatedly told that the Iranian government would become diplomatic, less hostile and less antagonistic towards the United States if Washington started cutting deals with Tehran to please its leaders.

The Islamic Republic is currently receiving the incentives – billions of dollars in sanctions relief and billions of dollars from American taxpayers. However, the more the White House bows to Iran with its appeasement policies, the more it empowers the mullahs financially and politically, and the more the Iranian regime feels comfortable arresting Americans, harassing and torturing them, and damaging US national security. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran is clearly attempting to show the United States as well as young Iranians that the nuclear agreement does not mean the Islamic Republic will welcome Westerners, open up its political and economic systems, and promote social justice and civil liberties.

In addition, by putting in jail people such as Mr. Shahini, the Iranian government is sending a message to the West that it will not only target prominent and influential people, but also ordinary citizens such as Mr. Shahini.

We also should not forget that Robert Levinson is still missing in Iran and has been since 2007.  The number of other Western citizens being arrested by the Iranian authorities is on the rise as well. For example, in March, Nazak Afshar, a French citizen who travelled to Iran to visit her ill mother, was detained at the time of arrival and was sentenced to six years in prison. The charges against her are still not clear. A month after, Nanzanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who is also not a political or human rights activist was arrested. She was with her infant daughter. The authorities also confiscated child’s passport. In June Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian citizen and university professor, was arrested. Bahman Daroshafaei, a British citizen, was arrested a few months ago and his family still does not know  his whereabouts and the charges against him.

Mostafa Azizi, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for “acting against national security,” “insulting the Supreme Leader,” and “propaganda against the state.” Recently, the Islamic Republic arrested Seraj Mirdamadi, a French journalist, who was later sentenced to six years in prison for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state”. Hossein Nouraninejad, an Australian journalist was also arrested and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”

Even the State Department has acknowledged the increasing threat against American citizens since the nuclear deal was reached. In a March travel warning, the State Department said that since the nuclear deal, “Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.” 

Iran has also arrested an American businessman visiting Iran. This shows that the Iranian government wants to keep the country closed to competition so that the government maintains its monopoly over the wealth and financial system.

The notion that Iran is becoming a rational state actor and that Westerners can visit Iran for tourism are false arguments. The mainstream media attempts to show that these arrests are not the fault of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.  Nevertheless, the truth is that there is no difference between the so-called moderates and hardliners in Iran when it comes to these issues. Neither Rouhani nor his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has criticized these arrests. They have not even helped put pressure on the system to release these civilians.

More importantly, thanks to President Obama’s policies, Iran has learned that by arresting Americans, it can use them as leverage to receive political and economic concessions from the United States. The Obama administration succumbed to the Iranian government’s demands previously. For example, this year, the administration swapped 7 Iranian prisoners in the US (who were held for serious charges) for a few Americans. Iran also detained American navy officers when it needed to pressure the US to make more concessions.

The US should take this issue seriously. It needs to begin imposing penalties on the Iranian government for its belligerent and nefarious actions, human rights abuses, and violations of the UN Security Council resolutions, such as by testing ballistic missiles, and the secret breaching of the terms of the nuclear agreement.