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Iran forces furloughed US-British national back to prison, lawyer says

Evin Prison (Ehsan Iran/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A dual U.S.-British citizen who was temporarily furloughed from an Iranian prison just days ago has been returned to jail, his family and lawyer said on March 20.

Morad Tahbaz, a 66-year-old environmentalist, was released on March 16, the same day as two high-profile British citizens who had been detained for more than five years were freed and flown home to Britain.

But his lawyer said that Iranian security officers had forced Tahbaz — who also has Iranian citizenship — to return to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.

“Unfortunately, we have no idea if or when he is going to be released,” Hojjat Kermani told the AP. “He is back in Evin for the time being.”

It was not immediately clear if Tahbaz’s return to prison was a temporary move or if he would be required to serve the final years of his 10-year sentence.

British and U.S. officials said they had been told he was returning to prison only to have an ankle tag attached, but his lawyer and family said they had no information on that.

Tahbaz’s family said they had received “devastating news” that he had been returned to prison.

“We the family are distraught at this moment,” they said in a statement.

British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrived in Britain on March 17 after being released from Iranian prisons following more than five years of detention.

The United States, Britain, and other countries have sought to secure the release of dozens of dual nationals detained by Iran. Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western nations.

The release of Tahbaz, Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia’s demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Tahbaz, a board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists. He and seven others were accused of compiling classified information while pretending to carry out environmental work.

Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the others on vague allegations of spying for the United States and undermining Iranian security.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on March 16 said Tahbaz had been released to his home in Tehran on furlough.

Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment and did not acknowledge his return to prison.

The British Foreign Office said: “We hope to see him returned to his home in the coming hours. Morad Tahbaz is a tri-national, and we are working closely with the United States to secure Morad’s permanent release.”