British-Iranian academic arrested by Tehran amid rising tensions

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Kameel Ahmady, a renowned anthropologist, was arrested by police in Tehran on Sunday on unspecified allegations.
Kameel Ahmady, a renowned anthropologist, was arrested by police in Tehran on Sunday on unspecified allegations. Credit: Family handout

Iran has arrested a dual British-Iranian national, threatening to further sour relations between the two countries just as they appeared to be making headway over the fate of a seized Iranian tanker.

Kameel Ahmady, a renowned anthropologist, was arrested by police on Sunday on unspecified allegations.

Mr Ahmady, an Iranian Kurd who was born in the western city of Mahabad, was granted British citizenship in 1994 but had been living in Iran for the last 14 years. 

His wife, Shafagh Rahmani, said on Tuesday night he had not been officially charged, but prosecutors at Evin prison said that he faces a series of charges related to “his activities”.

“At this moment I only ask [the judiciary officials] to allow me to meet my husband and talk to him on the phone,” she told Iranwire website. "His activities have been transparent and open. The results of his work has been published in books and these books were published with the permission of the Ministry of Culture.

I really have no idea why he has been arrested.”

Wife Shafagh Rahmani said on Tuesday night he had not been officially charged, but prosecutors at Evin prison said that he faces a series of charges related to “his activities”   Credit: Family

According to his Linkedin profile, Mr Ahmady, who had studied at the London School of Economics, is "a scholar working in the field of social anthropology conducting research on topics related to local cultures, women and children, and the rights of minorities in the Middle East, with some work experience in Africa and the Far East.” 

In 2015, he released a study suggesting tens of thousands of Iranian women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Before Mr Ahmady's disclosure, Iran was not recognised as a country affected by the controversial practice.

“I returned to Iran in 2005 to study FGM in my home country and instantly I was shocked to discover that it even happened to the closest members of my own family and relatives,” he told the Guardian at the time.

Iran has pursued a campaign of detaining Iranian and dual nationals academics in recent years, the latest of which was in July when French-Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah was detained on unspecified charges.

Iran has since 2016 been holding another British-Iranian national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, on charges of espionage. The 40-year-old charity worker's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has suggested she may be being used as leverage.

The Telegraph also revealed earlier this month that Iranian-Finnish King’s College London student Ana-Diamond, 24, was held in Evin prison for eight months that same year on charges of spying for the British government.

As tensions with Tehran escalate, the Islamic Republic is accused of using dual nationals as pawns in its standoff with the West.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, protesting outside the Iranian Embassy in London Credit: Rex

Iran and the UK have been locked in a diplomatic row over the fate of two tankers.

Gibraltar seized the Grace 1 supertanker on July 4 with the help of British Royal Marines on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. 

Tehran retaliated two weeks later by impounding British-flagged tanker Stena Impero while it was travelling through the Persian Gulf.

A court in Gibraltar is to decide the fate of the Grace 1 on Thursday, when an order for its detention lapses.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Tehran has lifted several stumbling blocks by reflagging the vessel and setting a new destination after Gibraltar sought assurance that the ship would not sail to Syria.

Iran has however tried to deny the oil carried by the supertanker was Iranian, declaring it as Iraqi, which is a common Iranian practice to evade sanctions.

It is not clear what the Gibraltar authorities will decide, but Iran seemed confident on Tuesday that the vessel would be released.

Talks between Iranian officials and the Foreign Office conducted in London last month failed to resolve the crisis.

Formally, the FCO is trying to separate the issues of the tanker from the broader tensions with Iran over the nuclear deal. 

Since the US pulled out of the 2015 accord last year, the UK and has been struggling to keep it alive while at the same time coming under pressure from Washington to take a harder line.

A spokesperson for the FCO told the Telegraph it was aware of reports of Mr Ahmady's arrest.