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Iran Indicts Dual-Citizenship Nationals On Undisclosed Charges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We learned a tiny bit more this week about the detention of Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman that's been detained for months in Iran. Iranian news reports say he's been indicted, along with some other dual nationals. Scholar Haleh Esfandiari is in our studios. She was detained for months in Iran's notorious Evin Prison back in 2007. Good morning.

HALEH ESFANDIARI: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you understand any better why these people are being held?

ESFANDIARI: To be honest with you, I was surprised when I read about their indictment because they have kept them for such a long time, especially Siamak - for almost a year. And I believe the reason is that there has been such an international pressure to either explain why they are detaining him and the others and that they should let them go, that the Revolutionary Guard stepped in - because they are arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and kept by them - so they stepped in.

INSKEEP: You're saying that you're surprised because you thought perhaps they'd be released after all of this pressure?

ESFANDIARI: I thought they would be - they would be released on bail, as it is common in Iran, you know, as in my case. But now they are indicted, it means they have been charged. But again, typically of Iran, they haven't announced what the charges are.

INSKEEP: We don't know why. We think they're suspected of some kind of espionage.

ESFANDIARI: Oh, yes, sure. That's what they believe. They believe all dual nationals at that level are involved in trying to undermine the regime. And that's what the supreme leader believes, too. And the Revolutionary Guards take their lead from what he says.

INSKEEP: Let's remember, the supreme leader of Iran, the ayatollah, who calls the biggest shots. The Revolutionary Guards are a military force that also has intelligence wings, and they're very powerful politically and economically. But there are forces in Iran, like Iran's elected president, who seems not to want this sort of thing. What do we make of this?

ESFANDIARI: My sense is that Mr. Rouhani, the president of Iran, is not going - is not and has not used any capital on trying to work on human rights issues. And he is not being involved. If he could do something, he would have stopped the arrest.

INSKEEP: You said not used any capital. Are you saying Iran's President Rouhani, who made the nuclear deal with the United States, isn't trying very hard on human rights?

ESFANDIARI: Definitely, because he's trying very hard to improve the economic situation in the country as some kind of opening up to the West. So he's choosing - picking and choosing his battles. And at this stage, it is not worth his while to get involved in human rights issues.

INSKEEP: So Siamak Namazi - Iranian-American - out of luck.

ESFANDIARI: Hopefully not. I'm an optimist, you know? Otherwise, I wouldn't have survived the prison. But I think it will take more effort. And I think one has to bring a lot of - continue bringing a lot of pressure on the Iranian government.

INSKEEP: Haleh Esfandiari, thank you very much for coming by this morning.

ESFANDIARI: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: She is at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was herself detained in Iran for quite many days back in 2007. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.