Hostage Briefing - 4 March 2023

published7 months ago
7 min read

Dear friend,

Welcome to our Hostage Briefing newsletter. On our latest episode, we speak again to the strong and resilient, Mariam Claren. Her mother, Nahid Taghavi is a 68-year-old German citizen who has been held hostage in Iran since October 2020. Mariam talks about what we can do to help free her mother and Jamshid Sharmahd, another German citizen held hostage in Iran who was recently sentenced to death. As usual, we also have updates on other hostage and wrongful detention cases from around the world.

New Episode Out Now

68-year-old German citizen, Nahid Taghavi has been held hostage in Iran since 16 October 2020. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Amnesty International have both stated that her detention is arbitrary and have called for her immediate release. Members of the German Bundestag from multiple political parties have also stated that Nahid is unjustly detained and have called for her release too.

Many things have happened in Iran in the last year. On this episode, we have the honour of speaking once again to Nahid's daughter, Mariam Claren who brings us up to speed on her mother's case. Nahid was released on medical furlough in July last year and was summoned back to Iran's notorious Evin prison 45 minutes after the German Chancellor criticised Iran's brutal crackdown on protests sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.

We also discuss the release of French academic Fariba Adelkhah, German citizen and U.S. resident Jamshid Sharmahd being sentenced to death as well as what the Iranian regime, German government and international community should do. We end this episode talking about how journalists and the public can help free Nahid Taghavi and Jamshid Sharmahd.

Hostage & Wrongful Detention News

Benjamin Briére, French hostage in Iran acquitted of all charges but remains imprisoned in Iran

  • French tourist, Benjamin Briére has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran since May 2020. He is one of seven French citizens currently held in Iran. The French government has referred to them as state hostages.
  • On 2 March, Benjamin's sister, Blandine Briére stated on Twitter that her brother had been acquitted of all charges on 15 February but still remains imprisoned.
  • It appears that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) may be putting pressure on the judge to keep Benjamin in prison as they are notorious for arresting and detaining innocent foreign nationals on false charges to be used as bargaining chips to extract concessions from their home country. This is state-sponsored hostage taking also known as hostage diplomacy.
  • We spoke to Blandine Briére two days before her brother's acquittal and you can listen to that episode here.

German citizen and U.S. resident held hostage in Iran, Jamshid Sharmahd sentenced to death

  • In July 2020, German citizen and U.S. resident Jamshid Sharmahd was kidnapped in Dubai by agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and taken to Iran where he is being held today. On 21 February, Jamshid was sentenced to death by the Iranian authorities in a sham trial. His life is in imminent danger as he may be executed at any moment. German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock released the following statement on Twitter that same day:
    • "The death sentence against Jamshid Sharmahd is completely unacceptable. We call on Iran to review and alter the decision. Our reaction will be firm. Jamshid Sharmahd did not have the rudiments of a fair trial: he was put on display, had no freely chosen counsel, and consular access was denied. We have consistently advocated for Mr. Sharmahd and will continue to do so with insistence."
  • On the same day, the French Foreign Ministry released the following statement:
    • "The death sentence handed down today against Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian dual citizen, is unjustifiable and absolutely unacceptable. France condemns this decision in the strongest possible terms and urges the Iranian authorities to reverse this death sentence. France offers its solidarity and support to the German authorities and to Mr. Sharmahd's family. France reaffirms its unwavering opposition to the death penalty everywhere and in all circumstances and denounces its political use in Iran. France joined with all the EU member states at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on February 20 in calling on Iran to end its arbitrary detention policy."
  • The following day, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz released the following statement on Twitter:
    • "The Iranian regime is battling its own people in every imaginable way and is disregarding human rights. The death sentence against Jamshid Sharmahd is unacceptable. We condemn it in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian regime to overturn the ruling."
  • On 22 February, the AP reported that Germany expelled two Iranian diplomats over Jamshid's death sentence. On 1 March, VOA News reported that Iran responded by expelling two German diplomats.
  • The German government, US government and international community have to do much more to save Jamshid Sharmahd's life. We spoke to Jamshid's daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd last month before he was sentenced to death to find out what we can do to help her father. Listen to this episode here.

Austrian national sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Iran

  • On 22 February, the AP reported via Times of Israel that an Austrian citizen had been sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for alleged espionage. The Austrian Foreign Ministry stated they summoned the Iranian Ambassador to Austria to express "our unequivocal protest".
  • As we have stated many times before, Iran is notorious for wrongfully imprisoning innocent foreign nationals and using them as bargaining chips to extract concessions from their home country. This is state-sponsored hostage taking also known as hostage diplomacy.
  • Iran is currently holding another two Austrian citizens hostage, Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb. We interviewed Kamran's wife, Harika Ghaderi in December 2021. Listen to that episode here.

Spanish hostage in Iran, Ana Baneira Suarez freed

  • On 26 February, Reuters reported that Spanish citizen, Ana Baneira Suarez who was imprisoned in Iran since November last year was released. Ana who is 24 years old works for a human rights NGO. She was detained in Iran during nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
  • On 2 March, Reuters reported on Ana again as she spoke to the media for the first time after her release. Ana said she did not take part in anti-government protests that started after her September 6th arrival in Iran as a backpacker following a tour of Georgia and Armenia.
  • Spanish citizen, Santiago Sanchez remains wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. The 41-year-old was arrested in October while completing a 6,800 km trek on foot from Madrid to Qatar to attend the World Cup there.

New Zealander and another three hostages held by armed group in Papua New Guinea released

  • On 27 February, ABC (Australia) reported that all members of an archaeology research group who were taken hostage by an armed group for ransom in Papua New Guinea were released after more than a week in captivity. New Zealand citizen and Australian resident, Bryce Barker as well as his two research colleagues, Teppsy Beni and Jemina Haro were freed on Sunday 26 February. Cathy Alex, another researcher was released three days earlier. They were completing fieldwork in a remote area near Mount Bosavi when they were taken hostage.
  • According to the article, the gang that took the hostages is from Komo in Hela Province. Authorities say more than a dozen members have already been identified. The criminals initially demanded a ransom of 3.5 million kina ($1.5 million) in exchange for releasing the hostages. A far smaller amount was eventually paid during negotiations. Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, James Marape said authorities could have taken an alternate course of action, noting that security forces were "within sight of the place where the hostages were held", but it was deemed too risky for the hostages. The PNG authorities are now pursuing these criminals.
  • In our opinion, PNG authorities made the right call here. They assessed the likelihood of successfully rescuing the hostages and concluded it was too risky. Hostages are very likely to be killed during rescue operations. PNG authorities prioritised the lives of the hostages and did what they had to do to free them. There is evidence that paying ransoms to non-state actors who take hostages incentivises more hostage-taking. To counter this, they have to be punished which is why the police are pursuing these criminals to deter them and others from taking more hostages in the future.

Somali pirates responsible for the kidnapping of German-American journalist, Michael Scott Moore convicted by U.S. Court

  • German-American journalist, Michael Scott Moore was investigating pirate kidnappings in Somalia in 2012 when he himself was taken hostage by Somali pirates. He was held in captivity for 977 days. On 24 February, two of the individuals responsible for Michael's captivity were found guilty on all counts by a U.S. court in the Southern District of New York. The following is the statement issued by U.S. Attorney Damian Williams on the convictions of Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed and Abdi Yusuf Hassan:
    • "For 977 days, Michael Scott Moore, an American journalist, was held hostage in Somalia by pirates. Today, a unanimous jury found two key players in Moore's years-long captivity guilty on all counts: Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed and Abdi Yusuf Hassan. Tahlil, a Somali Army officer, left his post to take command of the pirates holding Moore captive and obtained the machineguns and grenade launchers used to threaten and hold Moore. Hassan, the Minister of Interior and Security for the province in Somalia where Moore was held hostage, abused his government position and led the pirates' efforts to extort a massive ransom from Moore's mother. Today's guilty verdict shows that neither time nor distance can weaken our resolve to hold those who dare to take Americans hostage overseas fully accountable for their crimes, and to see justice done for the victims of such brutal and brazen attacks against Americans."
  • We had the honour of interviewing Michael last year. You can listen to that interview here.

Ways To Help

  • If you haven't already, please sign the petition to free Nahid Taghavi, Jamshid Sharmahd and Benjamin Briére and share them with your networks.
  • We say this in every newsletter and it doesn't stop being important - if you live in a country with a fellow citizen wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, please keep calling or writing to your politicians asking what they're doing to free this person and what are they doing to make sure this doesn't happen again to other citizens like you.

This newsletter is the best way to keep up to date with our work including the cases we're working on. If you haven't already, please do subscribe to this newsletter here. If you have any questions, you can get in touch here.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about hostage diplomacy and for showing the hostages and their families that they're not forgotten, that they're not alone, that there are good caring people out there who want to help.

Best Wishes,

Daren Nair

Creator & Host of Pod Hostage Diplomacy.

Pod Hostage Diplomacy

We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Sign up to get our Hostage Briefing newsletters with details of new episodes, news reports on hostage and wrongful detention cases as well as ways to help.

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