Australia is among 40 foreign nationals being held in Iranian prisons amid growing protests

The regime refuses to grant consular access because it does not recognize dual citizenship, Dfat said

An Australian citizen is among at least 40 foreign nationals now being held in Iranian jails amid pro-democracy protests across the country - and an escalating violent response by regime forces.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Iranian-Australian dual national was not arrested for taking part in anti-regime protests, but confirmed Australian officials had been denied access to assess the person's well-being.

A Dfat spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “The Australian government is not aware of any Australians who have been arrested or detained for participating in the recent protests in Iran.

“The Australian Government is concerned about the welfare of an Australian-Iranian citizen believed to be detained in Iran.

"We are continuing to seek confirmation of their welfare, and consular access."

Iran refuses to accept Australia's access rights because it does not recognize dual citizenship, the spokesperson said. In comments reported by state media Mehr News, Iran's judiciary spokesman, Masoud Setayeshi, told a news briefing on Tuesday: "So far, 40 foreign nationals have been arrested for their involvement in the protests."

The nationalities of all the foreigners arrested were not disclosed by Setayeshi, but are known to include French, Swedish, Italian, Polish, Dutch and German nationals. Several sources have confirmed that an Australian citizen is now in jail.

More than two months of heightened protests and public unrest have gripped Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September, after she was arrested, allegedly for wearing her headscarf immodestly. In the past week, the country's revolutionary tribunal has issued numerous death sentences against protesters for their role in one of the biggest ongoing challenges to the Iranian regime since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In submissions to Senate committees examining the human rights implications of the violence in Iran, Australia has been consistently urged to join allies such as the US, Canada, UK, Germany and the European Union in sanctioning regime officials, including Islamic paramilitary commanders. Revolutionary Guards Corps, and members of the "morality police".

Australia has not imposed any sanctions against Iranian institutions or individuals in response to the regime's violent crackdown on the protests to date. But the foreign minister, Penny Wong, said the government was determined to "continue to work with others to put pressure on the regime to stop its brutal campaign against its own citizens".

In filing for an inquiry, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic jailed by the Revolutionary Guards for 804 days on charges of trumped-up espionage, said she had "deeply suspect" one of the reasons for Australia's reluctance to apply sanctions to Iran. and its officials "caused by effective diplomatic blackmail".

"Iran is known to currently be holding innocent Australian citizens hostage in its prisons," Moore-Gilbert wrote.

“I suspect the Department of Foreign Affairs and Commerce opposes imposing sanctions on Iran because of the risk these sanctions could anger Tehran and complicate efforts to free this innocent Australian citizen. While the motives here may be noble, the results are not."

Moore-Gilbert argues that by not imposing sanctions on Iran, Australia is actually creating a perverse incentive for Iran to take Australian citizens hostage, knowing that the detainees can be used as leverage to deter sanctions or other action.

"We cannot allow the consular cases of a handful of unlawfully detained Australians to dictate Australia's response to Iran's human rights abuses on a large scale. The only way not to incentivize state-taking is to take action to demonstrate that there will be negative consequences for regimes like Iran that engage in this practice.

“Sanctioning Iranian officials involved in hostage-taking, and adopting a tougher line on Iranian human rights abuses more broadly, will signal that Australia stands by its values, and cannot be blackmailed.”

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