Oct. 6, 2021

Free Nahid, German Hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Free Nahid, German Hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

On 16 October 2020, 66 year old German citizen, Nahid Taghavi decided to go for a walk near her apartment in Tehran. It was a week after she had surgery and Nahid had high blood pressure. Within moments, she was surrounded by 12 armed men from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also known as the IRGC. She was arrested and taken to the notorious Evin prison where she remains to this day. 

Shortly after Nahid’s arrest, the German government updated their travel advisory warning German citizens who also hold Iranian nationality against travelling to Iran. Members of the German Bundestag from multiple political parties have stated that Nahid is unjustly detained and called for her release. Amnesty International has called Nahid Taghavi a prisoner of conscience. Nahid’s daughter believes she is being used as a bargaining chip by the IRGC to extract concessions from the German government. This would be hostage diplomacy. We speak to Nahid’s daughter, Mariam Claren to find out what we can do to help free Nahid.

We discuss her arrest, solitary confinement, getting COVID-19 in Evin prison, her sham trial, her unjust sentence, going public with the Free Nahid campaign, how her case relates to the JCPOA negotiations, the importance of calling her a hostage, working with other hostage families as well as what the German government, businesses, journalists and the public can do to help bring Nahid Taghavi home to Germany.

If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube

For more information on Nahid Taghavi, please check out the following:

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Free Nahid

[00:00:00] Daren Nair: Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years.

[00:00:24] These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us. People who have never given up hope. People who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now let's meet this week' guest.

[00:00:49] Welcome to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. On 16, October 2020, which is almost one year ago, Nahid Taghavi, an innocent 67 year old German citizen was unjustly detained in Tehran by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also known as the IRGC. Since her arrest, Nahid has been detained in Iran's notorious Evin prison and placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

[00:01:17] Shortly after this happened, the German government issued an update to their travel advisory to Iran, warning German citizens who also hold Iranian nationality against traveling to Iran. The following are quotes from the actual update itself. There have been several arrests of German-Iranian dual nationals in the past, including most recently in October 2020, often without comprehensible reasons, further detentions of people who also possess Iranian citizenship cannot be ruled out. Unnecessary travel by people who are also Iranian nationals is strongly discouraged.

[00:01:56] That is the update issued by the German Foreign Ministry shortly after Nahid Taghavi was taken in October 2020. It doesn't refer to her by name, but when they say most recently in October 2020, a German Iranian, dual national has been taken, that's Nahid Taghavi. Members of the German Bundestag, which is the German parliament from multiple political parties have called on Iran to release Nahid immediately

[00:02:23] as she's being unjustly held. Human rights organization, Amnesty International has called Nahid Taghavi, a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty stated that Nahid is arbitrarily detained, she has health issues and calls for her immediate and unconditional release. Now Iran has a long history of arresting innocent foreign and dual nationals on trumped up charges, putting them through sham trials and sentencing them to years in prison. The Iranian regime do this to use these innocent people as bargaining chips to extract concessions from their home country.

[00:03:01] In Nahid's case, this is Germany. This unacceptable practice is state-sponsored hostage taking also known as hostage diplomacy. We're joined today by Nahid's daughter, Mariam Claren, who is speaking to us from Germany. I know Mariam very well because I've been campaigning closely with her since she went public with her mother's arrest. Mariam.

[00:03:22] We're very sorry for what you, your mother and your family are going through. We will do everything we can to help. Thank you for joining us. 

[00:03:28] Mariam Claren: Thank you for having me, Daren. 

[00:03:30] Daren Nair: Can you please walk us through what happened to your mother? 

[00:03:33] Mariam Claren: Sure. Um, as you mentioned, my mother was taken in October 16th, 2020 in the streets of Tehran, the capital city of Iran.

[00:03:45] She was taking a walk and suddenly 12 men came and they started, uh, searching her body and saying, give us your mobile phone and Nahid thought this is a kidnapping and she starts screaming. Then they threat her with a gun. And there, she realized that this is a arrest. And they brought her to her home where she had the opportunity to pack some stuff.

[00:04:18] And, um, there was an ambulance in front of her home and where they brought her. And I want to mention the reason why there was the ambulance. They don't want the neighbors to know that this is a arrest. So they often use ambulances for arresting people. And she was arrested by the intelligence wing of the Islamic revolutionary guard corps, the IRGC and the IRGC is something like the deep state in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

[00:04:49] They control most of the organizations like the military, the police, economic, uh, and businesses they, they took her and they brought her to the notorious Evin prison. Evin prison is very notorious is famous for holding political prisoners, dissidents, dual-nationals. And there's, if she was brought to the isolation section called 2A, um, this is a prison in prison because it's not controlled by the judiciary.

[00:05:28] It is controlled by the IRGC and, uh, there, uh, my mother spent 194 days in solitary confinement, and I would talk a little bit more about her solitary confinement conditions and what happened to her. And I would like to tell you how I realized that she was arrested, because it's not like um somewhere in the world that someone calls you and says, we have arrested a person, and this is the charge and you can bring a lawyer uh no, you don't get any information.

[00:06:06] The people disappear and, um, it was a Friday night when she was arrested and Friday noon, I talked to her like I did every day. And she told me I would go out for a walk later and I was on a vacation trip and I told her, we are going back home tomorrow morning. I will send you tonight, some pictures of our last day at the beach and so on and in the evening, she was taken, , I sent her through WhatsApp, a lot of pictures and a voice message.

[00:06:42] And I could see that she's online. So she's reading the messages, but there was no response. And this was very unusual for my mother. My mom is a very responsible person. Sometimes when I do not respond to her messages in minutes, she called and said, what's going on? And I was just I'm driving.

[00:07:04] I cannot respond that quick to your messages. So I knew something is not okay. But, um, to be honest, I thought there is a problem with the internet line or something like this. And I, um, went to bed and in the next morning, um, I tried to call her, but her mobile phone was off. And that was when I start.

[00:07:32] getting worried And I thought what's going on? And she had a med surgery one week before she was arrested. So I thought maybe something happened to her in the apartment. Maybe. I don't know. Um, she has high blood pressure, something happened. So I called her brothers in Shiraz. Shiraz is a city about 800 kilometers far from Tehran.

[00:08:00] And I said, when was the last time you have talked to Nahid? And they said, oh, yesterday noon. And I said, I talked to her yesterday at noon too. But since then, is there any information about her? And they said, no. And I said, I have a bad feeling, something that that was an instinct. I was so stressed because I thought something

[00:08:24] happened. And we need to figure it out and my uncles called the neighbors because my mom lives in a apartment with three other neighbors. And, um, one of them said, no, her door is closed. I am going to bell, but there is no response. And, um, I told my uncles, you have to immediately go to Tehran. Something is going on.

[00:08:49] And they had a separate key. And, um, they jumped on the plane on Sunday, two days after her arrest. And, um, I was sitting here in Germany, so nervous. Um, and then they, went into her apartment and it was like the whole apartment was everything, the clothes were out of the closet and the laptop was missing and the carpet was taken from the, from the floor.

[00:09:27] And it seems like there was a kidnapping or something like this. And they realized that her whole laptop, her books, um, her passport, um, uh, uh, are missing and then they went again to the neighbor and said, what happened here? And the neighbor said, okay, I didn't want to say it on the phone. Um, she, a lot of men were here and they were here with the ambulance and they took her away.

[00:10:04] This was the point when my uncles called me. I said, you have to go to Evin prison because you know, my mom is a very political person and I knew that when something like this happened in Tehran, it's going to be in Evin prison. And my. Fear was that we get no information and they, the authorities would say, no, she's not here or something like this.

[00:10:29] Um, however, and the next morning on Monday morning, my uncles went to the Evin prison and, um, asked for my mom and they confirmed. Nahid Taghavi is here. She is in solitary confinement and it's a national security case. And then my uncles called me. And that was the point when I knew, okay, my mom is a political prisoner of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

[00:10:57] At this point, I never heard about hostage taking, the issue of about dual nationals. Nothing. I really thought she is arrested because of her point of view, because I knew that Iran is very harsh to dissident thinkers. And I thought, okay, your mom is someone who is always critical. And she always uses her freedom of speech.

[00:11:22] And maybe she had some activities and social media, or talk to someone about the wrong thing, and it's going to be solved in a few days. So it's not that big. Um, but, um, Honestly, that was the worst day of my life because I was so stressed. I didn't know. So, okay. She's a German citizen. You need to call the German government.

[00:11:50] Um, but, uh, what else? And I thought the only NGO I knew at this point was Amnesty International. So I have to call Amnesty International. And my uncles in Tehran were completely stressed because they, you know, my family is a very academic family. My uncles are, uh, PhD professors at the University of Shiraz.

[00:12:13] They are very scientific persons and they never had something to do with political stuff or security stuff. And they was stressed too. And, um, I said, okay, we need to find a lawyer. I need to start activities in Germany. Um, and first of all, is she still alive? We need to have a sign of life of her because we didn't know what's going on.

[00:12:38] And yeah, that was, that was the first 48 hours when we found out that, um, yeah, she she's arrested. And, um, at that point I thought, okay, she's a German citizen. So this is going to be something positive for us and the German government or the German embassy will call the Iranian authorities.

[00:13:03] And will tell them what is going on. And in a few days, everything is solved. I never thought there's this citizenship and being a German citizen, will be the main problem? Because at this point I never heard of, of the hostage taking, dual national issues as I, as I said, and yes, that was a, that was really a bad bad days because you have to decide, you have to, um, try not to be that emotional.

[00:13:37] And it's very difficult to be not emotional because it's not like she was taken in Sweden or in a, I don't know where else. Um, it was a totalitarian regime and, um, that was, that was really, really stressful to us. And, um, at the same time, um, while I was going through this struggle the first days Nahid was taken the first nights to an unknown location.

[00:14:10] They blindfolded her after they arrested her and brought her to a place we don't know where this was and where she spent the first night. And, um, the second morning they brought her to the Evin prison to the isolation section 2A, and the interrogations started. And, um, we did not have a sign of life of my mother for the first 12 days.

[00:14:39] So she was taken on October 16 and until October 28, there was no sign of life. Um, I really had the idea or thought maybe they killed her, maybe something so bad happened that they killed her. Um, today I know that, um, she's, her value is too much for killing her. Uh, she's a bargaining chip. Um, but, but in these days I didn't knew that.

[00:15:08] Um, so, um, yes, the interrogation starts, she called us after 12 days it was the 22nd. She called her brother and said, I'm okay. I'm alive. Don't worry about me. And then. This was the phone call was over. And the second phone call was two months later. So imagine two and a half months we were completely in limbo and I could not sit and do nothing. To me.

[00:15:39] It was clear. Okay. We have to start a campaign to free Nahid and. This is what I, what I did. It was the, I think after five days of her arrest, I called some of my best friends and said, okay, we have to do something. Um, the most important thing is we have to get public attention. The people need to know what's going on.

[00:16:08] We need to get the attention of the German government. We need to get the media attention and we need the world to know that something very unjust and arbitrary is going on about the German citizen. So, uh, one week after her arrest, um, I went online with my campaign Free Nahid. We created an Instagram account for her.

[00:16:30] We created a Twitter account for her and also Facebook. And, um, I called everybody which I know and said, do you have any contact to media, any contact to politician, political people in Germany, everything might help let me know. So I started making Excel list with people I need to talk to. And this is all in the first week.

[00:16:58] Um, and, um, I called Amnesty International, but I didn't know that Amnesty it took a long time before they take a case. Um, so I found the NGO, IGFM it's the international society for human rights. They are based in Germany and, um, the spokes man, he was, I really he's, he's an angel. He's called Martin Lessenthin.

[00:17:23] He was the first one who told me calm down. Germany will say they have no access because she's dual national but they can help if they want, you need to do a lot of noise and you need to have a lot of, um, bring a lot of time with you because this is not going to be a run, it's going to be a marathon.

[00:17:48] So it, this was one of the first things he told me, and this was the things that I always think about. Okay. And he said, I'm going to help you. We are going to do a press release. Um, we are doing a profile for your mom on our homepage. I will call all my, uh, network and, um, we will make this noise and we will tell about, uh, what, what is happening to her.

[00:18:15] So the whole thing started, um, you know, um, it was, uh, very, uh, it was a very crazy time because. When it starts, it really starts you know the thing that she's a dual national German-Iranian was very interesting to the media, especially to the Farsi Persian speaking media in, in, but not in Iran because this is state propaganda media, like BBC Persian, Deutsche Welle Persian, Iran International, Iran Wire, Voice of America.

[00:18:52] They started calling me and they said, you need to come to our show. We want to have an interview. And I was just like, you want my face on TV. I'm not ready for this. And you want to mention my name? One year later, here we are. I think I did about 100 interviews since then, but the first days were like, okay, I have to do this.

[00:19:14] I have to have a plan and I have to talk about her. And this, this is how we start going public with her case. I think that was the best decision of my life going public with her case. So immediately after her arrest because the governments and it's not only in the case of Nahid, I know this from other dual nationals who are arbitrarily detained in Iran.

[00:19:43] The second government, in my case, the German government, they always want you to keep quiet because they think maybe we can solve the problem behind closed doors on diplomatic levels. This is a lie. I don't know any case where this had worked out and not going public means you are putting pressure on the prisoner because when a prisoner is unknown, they can do everything to you because you are not important.

[00:20:18] I know from people other dual nationals and foreign, uh, nationals and even Iranian normal political prisoners, they told me at the moment, our case was public. That was the moment where they start asking, oh, do you need a doctor? They do not physically torture you. I want to say, not physically, because I will talk about the psychological torture that people go through in the Evin prison.

[00:20:49] And that was the best decision of my life because her face was almost everywhere, um, after, after one week. And, um, yes, this is how we went public with her case. And now I want to tell you about what Nahid goes through during this time. When after this week, after the months we were public, we were protesting.

[00:21:14] We were having interviews. Um, I was lobbying and in Berlin, and Nahid spent 194 days in solitary confinement. And when I say solitary confinement, I mean solitary confinement, because she was except 30 days completely alone. And the isolation section in Evin prison is, um, whole concept is. To break the prisoner.

[00:21:48] There are these tiny cells, very tiny cells. You are monitored by a camera, 24 7. There is no bed and no pillow in this cells. So imagine my 67 years old mother with high blood pressure and diabetic slept seven months on the hard cold floor without a pillow without a bed. She was interrogated 80 days in a row.

[00:22:23] About 10, 11 hours every day, she was interrogated in total a thousand hours and the interrogation or, um, the whole system of this isolation section is when you leave your cell, you are blind folded. So you never see what's happening around you. During the interrogation, she had to look at, at the, at a wall, so she could never see her interrogators.

[00:22:49] She was blindfolded, or she was looking at, at, at a white wall and, um, There is a very poor condition about, um, for example, fresh air, you, they bring you blindfolded to the yard for 20 minutes every day, but you are blindfolded. You can not see the sky and you have no access to good food. So after she was transferred after seven months to the woman wing of Evin prison, um she was in such bad conditions, that was the first time.

[00:23:29] I personally could talk to her because the first month when she was in solitary confinement, she could only talk to her brother twice a week. And that was after three or four months, the first three or four months, there were almost no call. And then she talked twice a week, five minutes to her, um, brother.

[00:23:48] And, um, after, after she was transferred, it was finally the day when I could talk to her. And I never remember, I never forget this moment. It was so emotional. It was like, she's freed to me because I could finally talk to her and tell her what was going on out side. And the first thing she told me was.

[00:24:10] I need medicine. My, my skin is completely sore and dry because no access to fresh air. My hair is falling. I cannot stand on my own legs, um, for more than five minutes because my back is completely damaged and I cannot sleep because, um, the whole psychological pressure in this solitary confinement, the interrogation, the conditions she was in such a bad conditions.

[00:24:46] That was one of the baddest things I've ever heard, because you could really hear that she was tortured, you know, tortured don't need to be a physical thing like flogging she was going through a torture for seven months and she's still going through it 

[00:25:05] and. It was, it was really bad, but we were happy that she was transferred. So I organized medicine through the German embassy and, um, gave her a good feeling that I am going to care. And the most important thing was I told her about all the efforts outside. I told her, um, all the Bundestag members, the German parliament members who are speaking out for her, all the NGOs who are calling for immediate release, all the interviews that I gave in English, in German and in Farsi.

[00:25:43] Um, and my mom is a Guardian reader and I said, mom, I had an interview with Patrick Wintour from Guardian. You cannot believe you are famous. You know, it was very important because that gives so much spirits to the, um, to the prisoner, you know, because when you are isolated and when you are alone, And they lie to you.

[00:26:05] They say things like, nobody cares for you. Nobody's asking for you. Um, you have to confess if you confess, we are letting you out and you are isolated. You don't have books, you don't have TV, you don't have newspapers. You don't even have phone calls, so you don't know what's going on. And one day in solitary confinement is to the prisoner like seven days.

[00:26:33] You know, the time is going very slowly. And you think nobody thinking about me so it's very, very important to tell the prisoner about the efforts that are taking place about the people who are standing beside her. So that was always my biggest goal and letting her know that she's not alone 

[00:26:52] Daren Nair: Now, as you said, at the beginning, your mother is a dual national, she has both German and Iranian citizenships. However, Iran does not recognize dual nationality, which is why they've denied Consular support from the German government for your mother.

[00:27:07] And as you said, one of the members of the human rights organization, the I G F M, said, if you make enough noise, the German government will be pressured to act, and if they want to do something they can. So can you talk a bit more about how the German government has either worked around or not worked around this roadblock placed by the Iranian regime saying that they don't recognize her as a German citizen?

[00:27:36] Mariam Claren: I told the German government on day two, about her arrest. I called the foreign office. I called the embassy in Tehran and I said, here is a really urgent case Nahid Taghavi dual national is taken. And we had a relationship between me and the German government is not that easy. Um, to be honest, the persons who speak with me at the foreign office at the German embassy.

[00:28:16] We really made friends in the last year because they are so involved in the case, they get daily reports from me, what's going on? What did they say? What? Uh, but I say they, I mean the authorities in Iran, what did my mother say? And I'm very sure that these persons, two, three persons tried their best, but I'm very disappointed and shocked that a level over this persons.

[00:28:51] I mean the real government, the diplomatic people, the people who have access to the Iranian authorities who deal with them, who are now going back to the JCPOA the nuclear deal in Vienna. Germany is one of the negotiation partners. There is a very long history of trade and business between Iran and Germany.

[00:29:16] So I'm very sure that there are people who have the power to do more because one year had passed and we have nothing. We have nothing, we had a kangaroo trial, we had seven months of solitary confinement, and we have a sentence. I would talk about this judiciary process later. And so what did they really do?

[00:29:44] The only thing I hear is we are trying on the highest level to get access to your mom. We leave no stone unturned, but if you see the interviews of other dual national families, it's always the same sentences. From the UK families from the Austrian families, from the American families. And, um, what is this?

[00:30:12] We are trying our best on the highest level. You know, so if you asked me, what do they do? I cannot give you an answer. This is a question almost every journalist asked me in my interviews and I really feel bad to say they are trying their best, what is trying your best?. And as I said, there are a lot of good politicians in Germany who are supporting me. Members of the German parliament from different parties.

[00:30:45] But, um, I think the opportunities are not taken. Why?. I don't have any answer to this. The only thing I see is that a German citizen is getting tortured and mistreated in a Iranian prison, and nothing happened the last year. 

[00:31:11] Daren Nair: So now it's going to be almost one year. She was taken in the 16th, October, 2020. That's pretty much a week or two from now.

[00:31:21] It'll mark the one year anniversary, a sad anniversary . And you now have a new German government, or at least a group of political parties trying to form a German government. What should they be doing better to free your mother and bring her back home to Germany? 

[00:31:41] Mariam Claren: Um, you know, I'm, I'm watching the German election, uh, very excited and I'm very excited who's going to build the, um, the government.

[00:31:49] But, um, I would go into the dialogue with them at the point when they are, they are built and I'm prepared. Um, I think the German government needs to have a red line about Iran. And there is this bigger issue about Iran because it's not only the problem of the hostage taking of dual nationals. And we all know that Iran has a history of human rights violations since 42 years.

[00:32:24] And the prisons are full of political prisoners who are innocent people because they, uh, uh, are lawyers, journalists, dissidents, women rights activists, and there is this hostage diplomacy thing, which has taken place. And we have a lot of cases in the past. Um, where, these people were exchanged in prisoner swaps, or there was some goody given to them or something like this.

[00:32:59] And so I'm hope, and this is what I'm going to, um, to put pressure on is that the new German government have this red line because I can not understand. And I don't get it that economical. Um, things are more important than human rights. And now we are talking about their own citizen, you know? So where is your red line?

[00:33:29] And this is what I'm going to challenge, uh, in the, in the second year of her arrest. So what is the red line? What needs to happen? That your eyes finally gets open because it's so clear what's going on, you know, and there was so many crazy movements in my mom's case, and it was really directly linked to something that happened in Germany or in Western government.

[00:34:00] Let me give you an example. My mom was in solitary confinement, as I said, and she was brought to the woman wing for the first time, five months after her arrest. She spent 20 days at the woman wing and then suddenly she was brought back to solitary confinement on the day when the nuclear deal negotiation began in Vienna.

[00:34:31] Then a second thing about one month ago, while I was talking to my mom on the phone, one of the authorities came, I could hear this and said, we will grant you medical furlough. If you put in bail of, it was about 75,000 euros. If you put a bail, , from 75,000 euros, you will get in one week medical furlough. I was really surprised because, dual nationals very rarely get medical furlough and.

[00:35:08] 24 hours later. I knew why, because our foreign minister Heiko Maas had a phone call with the Iranian foreign minister. You know what I mean? So you can often clearly see that there are some links and when I, a normal woman can see this links, sorry, are you kidding me? It's very clear that there is something between these two countries and this is what Richard Ratcliffe the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said in the first podcast episode.

[00:35:41] The thing about dual nationals and hostage taking is you have to struggle and play with two players. You have your home government in my case, the German government, and you have this, the Islamic Republic of Iran and you are in the middle of a crazy game. I never thought that my mother, Nahid Taghavi.

[00:36:07] Will ever have a link to negotiations in Vienna about the JCPOA that's so crazy, you know, but now I'm following the news about JCPOA okay. What's going on? What does Germany say? What does Iran say? And this makes it very, very difficult for a family member, you know, 

[00:36:30] Daren Nair: so you bring up a good point that a lot of these, hostage taking, is tied to global treaties and negotiations, like the JCPOA and I've been campaigning with, , the family members of loved ones held hostage in Iran, from the UK U S Austria, France. Germany like yourself. Um, and Sweden as well and Canada and Australia, and the feedback I kind of get is these governments, or at least most of them, or too many of them are negotiating separately with Iran, where else?

[00:37:10] The UK and the US, for instance, because they have one prisoner or one hostage by the name of Morad Tahbaz, who is a UK citizen and a US citizen. Uh, they're both negotiating together to get him and their respective citizens freed. But the other countries seem to be, at least from the outside, seem to be negotiating with the Iranian regime separately.

[00:37:35] Would they not have more leverage and a bigger chance of getting their citizens freed if they all got together and negotiated with the Iranian regime as a coalition, instead of trying to free their citizens individually, what are your thoughts? 

[00:37:51] Mariam Claren: Oh, of course, of course, because if they act like they do right now and negotiate separately, and I want to say, I I'm really against, for example, things like prisoner swaps, what kind of deal is this?

[00:38:11] To be honest, of course, for the prisoner who is unjustly detained, it's a good thing. The person is free, but imagine. Someone is taken. And then the other government says, and I want to mention the case of , Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the Australian hostage. She was free in a prisoner swap last year and three Iranians who were sentenced because of, I think terrorist crimes in Thailand were freed.

[00:38:44] So if you go into this negotiations, so it seems working if I would be the bad guy, like Iran is I would repeat this because I would think it seems it's working, you know, 

[00:39:00] but if the countries like US, UK, France, Germany etc would work together to solve this issue of hostage taking I'm. Hopefully that Iran would not do this anymore because if they only negotiate the two countries with each other in the end, Iran gets what they want. There are so many cases, there were prisoners swaps, money were given.

[00:39:31] That's the big issue and I don't get it. Why they don't do this?

[00:39:35] Daren Nair: No, I absolutely agree. There has to be something that's done, to combat and put an end to hostage diplomacy. Actually, it's unlikely to end hostage diplomacy because hostage taking is has been something that's been going on for thousands of years. And it's unlikely to stop. It's just like wars.

[00:39:56] You can't stop wars, but you can make sure it is small and rare and you can make sure there are consequences for these actions. Now, the first step to solving a problem is always to name the problem and members of the German Bundestag and human rights organizations have stated that your mother is arbitrarily detained.

[00:40:16] Or wrongfully detained. She is a victim of Iran's hostage diplomacy. She's being held by the Iranian IRGC as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Germany can you talk to us about why it is important for people to start calling your mother what she is, which is a hostage. 

[00:40:32] Mariam Claren: I really don't get it why

[00:40:34] um, the governments don't want to say what it is. And I told this a lot of times, um, to the German government and I said, what do they want? Did they told you what they want? They are using her as a bargaining chip. It's the hostage diplomacy thing. And the only answer you get is no, there is no sign for this.

[00:40:59] And I really don't know why they don't do this. I'm sure there are, um, Political reasons behind this because also the Western governments, um, uh, act like it's good for them in the end. They don't care that much about Nahid Taghavi or something like this. It's only the pressure of the people of the NGOs of the media to make them do anything.

[00:41:29] But it's very important because, um, only if you name a problem, um, you can solve it. If you speak around it in Germany, we say speaking around something um I don't think that you can solve a problem. So I wish that, um, the German government would be that brave and would name the thing, shame the thing, and solve the thing.

[00:41:52] Daren Nair: So you bring up a good question, which is why don't they do that? And I've interviewed family members. I've spoken to Roland Marchal on my last podcast episode. , he's a French academic who was held hostage in Iran for nine and a half months and released in a prisoner swap that was plain and simple hostage diplomacy . So Roland Marchal said. If you call her a hostage, it's going to make the negotiation harder because whatever you think about the Iranian judicial system, they are very proud of what they call the rule of law of their legal system.

[00:42:30] And I say this again, irrespective of what the facts are, irrespective of what the human rights organizations around the world have said, irrespective of what the United nations working group on arbitrary detention have said, they seem to believe, or at least act like they believe their judicial system is fair and balanced.

[00:42:53] So when you go to them and say, well, she's a hostage and they reply. No, she's not. She was arrested based on a security charge. there was a trial and she was sentenced. She went through our judicial process. She's a prisoner. Now that just makes the negotiation harder. And which is why the governments tend to kind of work around this, even though most governments, most diplomats.

[00:43:20] know. Yes, it is hostage diplomacy. They've been doing it for pretty much 40 years. This is what the former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw said as well in a radio interview. Yes, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother from London who has been held in Iran for over five years now, she is a hostage, but publicly you can't call her a hostage, at least the government can't because it makes the negotiations harder.

[00:43:47] So that is the reasoning you get from the diplomats and some former hostages. What are your thoughts? Do you believe, at least to some extent that is true and what should be done to resolve this?

[00:43:58] Mariam Claren: You talked about the rule of law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Please give me a moment to tell you about the rule of law in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

[00:44:10] I will describe you the judiciary process, and then we can talk about is this a fair thing . My mom had no access to a lawyer until her first court hearing in April, 2021. This was six months, more than six months after she was arrested.

[00:44:31] She saw her lawyer on the first court hearing the first time. So the lawyer could not talk to the client and build a defense. The lawyer was given access to the file of my mother four days before the first court hearing was, and he was not allowed to take the case with him to his office. No. He had to read the case in front of the judge in front of the security forces and he wasn't even not allowed to take notes.

[00:45:02] So this is their fair judiciary process. Second, during her pretrial detention, they tried to force my mom to get a lawyer from the list. A lawyer from the list, are lawyers who are approved by the judiciary system. Sorry, imagine you are detained anywhere in the world. And the prosecutor will tell you who is going to be your lawyer.

[00:45:30] Do you trust this lawyer? Of course not. So we reject to take one of these lawyers. So she had access to her lawyer at her first court hearing at her fourth court hearing only the charges were brought up against her and the second court hearing. And the final court hearing was six weeks later on June 13, where the prosecutor read the charges and this is it, the lawyer, and my mom had no chance to defend my mom.

[00:46:03] And six weeks later in August, she was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison on the bogus charges. Running an illegal group for disrupting national security and propaganda against the state, the charge, the whole way the, it comes to the kangaroo trial. Everything was ridiculous. And a farce.

[00:46:27] So if someone is saying, even in the German government, I've heard this, this is their rule of law. Sorry, you have to stand in front of this arbitrary detention and call it what it is. I'm very sure that the Iranians did tell Germany what they want Germany is not ready to pay the price or something like this.

[00:46:52] I don't know. But, the fact is the whole thing from arrest to, until the court and the sentence and the charges. Everything is ridiculous. And under international law completely illegal.

[00:47:07] Daren Nair: Now I campaign with many hostage and detainee families. I know it's not just your mother that is in prison right now in a way you and the rest of your family are also in prison too. Can you talk about the toll Nahid's hostage taking has taken on you and your family?

[00:47:22] Mariam Claren: Um, nobody can prepare you for what our family is going through. Even if someone had told me one year before, in one years, this is going to happen. Prepare yourself. That's impossible. She caught COVID during her detention and she was not on medical furlough like the other detainees.

[00:47:46] She was the only dual national. And she was the only one who was not on furlough. I want to mention that dual national is always treated different than the other detainees. Um, so, um, our whole family is under pressure. Um, since, since one year, um, you never get used to it, the feeling in my stomach every day, everything you do, you feel guilty even though, you know, that's not good or you need to live for your life.

[00:48:18] Beside campaigning beside being there for her, but it's very, very difficult. It's it's it has so much effect on my personal life. Um, uh, the first month I could not eat, I could not sleep. Um, I'm a smoker. I smoke, I think much more than one year before. Um, I'm stressed, but. I'm also, I'm very proud of my mom.

[00:48:49] I'm very proud of my family and myself. I have learned so many good people in the last year. So much solidarity, so many strangers who they are writing letters to my mom and they called me her birthday was one month ago. And there was so much love and solidarity. And, um, I'm an activist now, you know, I was never a political activist before, before this happened to us.

[00:49:24] So, um, I want to mention the positive things, because there are so many positive people who are going with us through this, but, um, nobody can prepare you for an ordeal like this. It's really crazy. It's like the same if Al-Qaeda or ISIS would have taken someone and because. It's only state sponsored, you know, um, that's the difference, but it's, it's, it's really, it's really hard.

[00:49:53] You know, I'm the only daughter of, of, of my mother and my dad died in a car accident when I was two years old. So it was only my, always my mom and me, and, um, we came to Germany forty years ago and my mom was an architect and, um, it was always her and me and I miss her so much. And, um, every day I, every day you go to bed and you think, did I did enough today to free Nahid?

[00:50:25] Or maybe there was something I could do more. Maybe I should write to this person. Maybe I should call this person. You are always in your mind, struggling and thinking. What is tactical, right? Should I go public with this thing or not? I by myself, decided to go public with everything. There is nothing I'm going to hide.

[00:50:52] Um, I, I think transparency helps and, at the end, it's going to be the best way to free her. 

[00:50:59] Daren Nair: Your mother is not the only person in this position at the moment. There are many families with innocent, loved ones being held hostage in Iran and around the world. Now you've been working together with some of these families.

[00:51:11] Can you talk to us about the solidarity among these different families?

[00:51:16] Mariam Claren: There are at least I think five or six families I work with. We make friends in the last year and it's really great to have them because my mom is the youngest hostage. I mean the last one, um, uh, who was taken, um, and the others, for example, Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband. He's going through this since five and a half years.

[00:51:51] So he has a lot of experience and, um, it's, it's also so ridiculous and funny when we families talk to each other. It's like a blueprint. Everything was the same. And for example, Nazanin and my mom's case is really similar. She was also in solitary confinement, also 7.5 months, and then she was brought to court.

[00:52:17] She had access to the lawyer a few hours ago. Then she was sentenced to, it's always the same way the whole thing goes on. And so I could prepare myself a little bit by the experience of the others. And we do a lot of common actions. We talk a lot with each other and it's always good to know they are the only.

[00:52:42] One who really understands who would know what we're going through because there are really dark days. You know, there are some days when you cannot even take it. And then I always take the phone and call one of these families and, and sometimes we cry together. Sometimes we laugh together. It's also very funny sometimes.

[00:53:00] We have this WhatsApp group called, , 'Evin Is The New Black', you know, so, um, it's it's you need to have a little bit sense of humor to go through this. If you take it only serious and dark and tragically, you it's. It's, like I said, in the beginning of the interview, it's a marathon. It's not a run.

[00:53:21] Daren Nair: 'Evin is the new black'. That's good. That's good. Now on a lighter note, you are a good campaigner. Your campaign is hopeful and inspiring and it makes people want to join your cause. As you said, you're an activist now. You do challenge the German government's approach, but at the same time, you are always respectful to the German government.

[00:53:41] And that's a good thing because the first rule of lobbying, whether or not you agree with the politician is that you have to respect them. So where did you learn to campaign ?

[00:53:51] Mariam Claren: Um, to be honest, I did not learn to campaign, but there were two things which helped. The first of all, I was educated by a very, very strong, a very smart woman called Nahid Taghavi . She is a very, um, she was always very clear about the political situation in Iran. She always told me about the abusers. So this was not so new to me.

[00:54:21] I knew there's something bad going on. And the second thing is I'm a project manager and my job is to, um, to do marketing on products. This might sound very weird, but at the beginning of her arrest, um, I tried to act like there is this project. The most important project of my life, freeing my mother. And, um, how would you do this?

[00:54:57] If this would be a real job, you want to sell your project. And this was the way I started doing this. And, um, fortunately I, I, I'm a good speaker. I can speak to people I'm not shy. And so it was not so difficult for me to speak in front of the camera and then things go on. And the more I did, the more energy I I've got and, um, I'm not tired.

[00:55:24] I'm just, it's, I'm just beginning.

[00:55:26] Daren Nair: What should German businesses that operate in Iran be doing to help? 

[00:55:33] Mariam Claren: Um, as I mentioned, the Germany has a long history of trading and doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran. And there are a lot of German companies who do business with Iran and, um, they have the real interesting connections to Iran.

[00:55:51] They can lobby for my mother. They can challenge the Iranian authorities. So I wish that money would not be more important than a human life. So, um, hopefully they will do it. I would challenge this too, of course, you know, because nobody will do something for you without pushed.

[00:56:14] Daren Nair: There's also an incentive for businesses as well. If your employees are at risk of being taken hostage, especially the dual nationals, then that is a problem for you as well. And I know with the two Michaels Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor the Canadians being released from China, you could see the news coverage.

[00:56:34] The articles that say that ex-pats in China are at risk of being arrested, just like the two Michaels. So if you are a German business that operates in Iran with German employees based in Iran, they are at risk too. So there is an incentive for these organizations, these businesses to protect your employees.

[00:56:56] And to say something when you see this happening to your fellow citizens,

[00:57:00] now you mentioned at the beginning, that you went to the media, you spoke to Farsi media, like BBC Persian, Iran International, Iran Wire and VOA Farsi. Now you also spoke to DW and I saw some articles in German media as well, and it is very important for the families, as well as the hostages that the media keep covering these cases.

[00:57:27] It puts pressure on the government to act, and it reminds the public that there is someone who needs their help. As well as this could happen to them. Now, what should journalists and the news media be doing to help?

[00:57:42] Mariam Claren: I think that it's very important that, um, even after the persons and the prisoners, the hostages have received their verdict and people saying, okay, the thing is over. She has now her sentence, no it isn't over, it's just the beginning. So it's very important to don't forget about them and give the families the coverage they need.

[00:58:09] Um, talk about the cases. Don't forget about them. I know it's, it's very difficult in times, like coronavirus, like the Afghanistan problems etc but. Please give every family member the needed stage to talk about their loved ones, because it's so important. Media coverage helps to secure the life of this hostages.

[00:58:39] Daren Nair: What can the public do to help free Nahid Taghavi, your mother? 

[00:58:44] Mariam Claren: Um, the public in Germany, please write your MPs. We have, elected, , last week, new MPs, write your MPs, tell them about the thing that happens to Nahid Taghavi. Call for their action. They should talk to the government and, there is, the petition for freeing Nahid Taghavi on change.org. It's called freedom for Nahid Taghavi #freen ahid. Please sign the petition. Follow my Twitter account. It's @mariam_claren you can also find me always under the hashtag free Nahid. Um, tell the world about this issue. Talk to your own family about this.

[00:59:31] The more people know about this issue, the better it is. And don't forget about these political prisoners, these hostages.

[00:59:41] Daren Nair: Mariam, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about? 

[00:59:46] Mariam Claren: Um, Daren I really, really would like to thank you for giving me the stage for giving me so much time for campaigning with us since so many times you were one of the first persons, which, , I get in touch with after my mom was taken.

[01:00:01] And it was so helpful. It was actually you who raised my mother's case at Amnesty International and, um, brought me in contact with so many journalists. So that's very important. Thank you so much. I love this podcast. I recommend to everybody to hear it every week. It's really good to know. It's not only about the problem of Iran's hostage taking.

[01:00:26] There are so many other, unjustly detained around the world and. We are going through this all together and help us to free our loved ones. 

[01:00:37] Daren Nair: You're very welcome, Mariam, it's an honor to help. And it's been great working with you. So for our listeners, I used to be a Director on the Board of Amnesty International UK.

[01:00:48] So within a week, well, actually, when you went public, the day you tweeted about this, I got in contact with you. As I said at the beginning

[01:00:58] I'll be right here. Helping you until your mother comes home. Now to our listeners. If you would like to send messages of solidarity, to Mariam and her family, please post them on Twitter using the hashtag Pod Hostage Diplomacy. And we will share them with her. If you have any questions for Mariam, please post them on Twitter, using the same hashtag or just use the free Nahid hashtag.

[01:01:22] And if we get many questions, Mariam, and I will have a separate Q and A podcast episode to answer them for you, Mariam, we really appreciate your time and we will be right here by your side until your mother comes back home. Thank you for joining us. 

[01:01:36] Mariam Claren: Thank you.

[01:01:42] Daren Nair: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families, or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag #PodHostageDiplomacy and we will get back to you.

[01:02:00] If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the support the show link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening and we'll be back next week. Take care.