London, United Kingdom – The son of a British-Iranian businessman jailed in Tehran has called on the government of the United Kingdom to take action to secure his father’s release, saying he had “never been political”.
Anoosheh Ashoori, a 65-year-old retired engineer, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his mother in Tehran, the Iranian capital.
He was bundled into a car and later interrogated, his 29-year-old son Aryan Ashoori, an academic researcher, told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview.
Accused of spying for Israel‘s Mossad intelligence agency, charges the family strongly deny, Ashoori was jailed for 10 years after he lost an appeal in July.
His dual nationality is not recognised by Iran and prevents him from accessing the British consulate.
Ashoori spent 10 years in the UK between 1972 and 1982, while he studied mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
He abandoned plans for a PhD and left for Iran when his father became ill. He took on the family’s construction business, Techno Khallagh, developing “Roofix”, a product for building earthquake-resistant homes, schools and mosques.
In the mid-1990s, Ashoori received a “Gold Award” from Abbas Akhoundi, then housing minister, for the product.
He returned to the UK in 2005, this time to expand his business abroad and for his children’s education.
Despite sanctions, he continued to “promote bilateral trade between the UK and Iran by representing British businesses interested in bringing products to Iran,” said Aryan.
“My dad’s never been political, and he made sure not [to] get involved with government business.
“For him, politics is like a symptom. If you want real change, you invest in infrastructure, in shelter. If you’re a teacher, you don’t need to be into politics, because you’re already contributing to society. My dad was doing that with his engineering. He didn’t need to be political.”
Ashoori is one of several dual nationality prisoners in Iran and, according to Aryan, the move is “strategic”.
“You have Israel’s nuclear facilities and stockpiles of weapons, which were disclosed by [Israel’s nuclear whistle-blower] Mordechai Vanunu in the 80s, and you have US military surrounding Iranian borders.
“Where is there room for diplomacy here?”
One solution in releasing his father lies with British authorities, he said, which should pay a 400 million pounds ($491m) debt to Iran following a cancelled arms deal.
He added that the relationship with Iran needs to be improved and suggested trade ties would help.
“It also works the other way round,” he said. “My dad’s court appeal was rejected the day after Britain took Iran’s tanker. Obstacles we’ve faced have correlated with geopolitical events.”
Ghoncheh Tazmini, an academic at SOAS, told Al Jazeera: “We cannot divorce these arrests from the political context, which is at this point a very dense quagmire.”
She added that the UK government’s role in sustaining dialogue with Iran “is key”, while Europe itself has “fallen short” of relieving Iran of “crippling sanctions”.
Julie Norman, a teaching fellow at University College London, told Al Jazeera: “It’s not necessarily about the individual, but in some ways, more about a policy for Iran as seen by external tensions with Iran, the UK, US and Australia, and nationals from those countries getting imprisoned in similar ways.
“We don’t know what the singular thing behind such imprisonments are, but global sanctions and debts owed by the UK would be the kinds of things that would be considered to be the rationale behind this.”