Hostage Diplomacy: While Iran Nuclear Negotiations Are Underway in Vienna, Tehran Continues to Hold Two Austro-Iranians Captive

PeopleOther ♦ Published: December 14, 2021; 16:11 ♦ (Vindobona)

As the details of a resumption of the 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA) continue to be discussed in Austria, the host country of the "Iran Nuclear Talks," two Iranian-Austrians, Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, have been imprisoned in Iran for years on charges of alleged espionage.

The two Iranian-Austrians who are in captivity: Kamran Ghaderi (left) and Masoud Mossaheb (right). / Picture: © Free Kamran Ghaderi / Harika Ghaderi / Amnesty International Österreich (Photo composition)

Who is Masoud (Massud) Mossaheb and why is he being imprisoned?

Univ. Prof. DI Dr. techn. Dr. Phil. Masoud Mossaheb is a native of Iran who received a doctorate in mechanical engineering in Vienna and acquired Austrian citizenship in 1980.

He has worked, among others, in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and at Siemens, where he was the technical project manager of the two largest Austromir projects, responsible for the technical-scientific part of the experiments.

Massud Mossaheb is also one of the co-founders of the OIG - Österreichisch-Iranische Gesellschaft (Iran-Austrian Friendship Society), which is a non-governmental group established in Austria to build closer ties with Iran. According to its imprint, he is still its secretary general.

Mossaheb was arrested in Iran on January 29, 2019 by members of the Iranian intelligence service, while traveling with a delegation from the MedAustron medical center, sentenced to 10 years in prison in an unfair trial for offenses against "state security," and eventually imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran. 

The reasons for his arrest and conviction have remained rather vague to this day.

According to Amnesty International, the following details are available: "After his arrest in January 2019 and during his detention in a hotel room, ministry of intelligence interrogators told him they had monitored and observed him for the past two decades and considered every trip and vacation he had taken to Iran during that time as a sign of espionage. Three days after his arrest, he was transferred to Section 209 of Evin prison, which is under the control of the ministry of intelligence, where his interrogators subjected him to torture and other ill-treatment including through the denial of his spectacles without which he is unable to see properly.

He was not allowed any family visits until 16 April 2019. Around 50 days into his detention, he was moved from solitary confinement to an overcrowded cell in the quarantine section of the prison and is currently being held in Section 7 of the prison. On 29 July 2019, the authorities instructed Massud Mossaheb’s wife to bring a suit to prison for him to do a TV interview. They threatened him with solitary confinement if he failed to do the TV interview and forced him to wear the suit and to read “confession” statements, doing numerous takes in front of two cameras.

During Massud Mossaheb’s trial, which took place between 1 February and 26 April 2020, these forced “confessions” were used as admissible evidence against him. In the court verdict, the prosecution claimed that he had worked with the intelligence services of Israel and Germany for the past two decades, that he had used his position with the Iran-Austrian Friendship Society as a guise under which to carry out his activities and pass intelligence about Iran to Israel and Germany.

They also alleged that he had received money as “financial compensation for his espionage services”. On 13 July 2020, his lawyer was told by the authorities that the verdict had been upheld and was final.

On 11 August 2020, the spokesperson of the judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, announced Massud Mossaheb’s conviction and sentence during his weekly press conference. This was followed by a propaganda video published on 13 August 2020 by the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting which showed Massud Mossaheb forced “confessions”."

The portal "", a project of "Transparency for Iran", confirmed that state television in Iran showed Masoud Mossaheb's confession in August 2020.

According to the broadcast, Mossaheb had been sentenced in Iran to ten years in prison and fined more than $400,000 for "espionage" for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND - Bundesnachrichtendienst). He is said to have received this sum of money for his "espionage work". According to, the TV broadcast said that the now 75-year-old allegedly obtained information on Iran's drone, missile and nuclear programs for the BND and recruited informants.

Mossaheb is also alleged to have committed treason against Austria by passing on information about Austria to the BND in exchange for large sums of money. This has not yet been commented on by official Austrian sources.

It remained unclear how Mossaheb was able to obtain the sensitive information on Iran's drone, missile and nuclear programs. As secretary general of the Austrian-Iranian Society and with his capacity as an interpreter as part of the Austrian delegation of MedAustron, he is said to have established contacts with Iranian diplomats, the broadcast said.

MedAustron in Wiener Neustadt is a large 200-million-euro research center for radiation therapy owned by the state of Lower Austria, where expertise around nuclear processes and reactions plays a role.

It is a radiotherapy technology company and an interdisciplinary and supra-regional center for cancer treatment with particle therapy, research and further development of this relatively new form of therapy, and non-clinical research with protons and heavier ions.

After the construction phase in 2011, the installation of the particle accelerator in 2012 and the technical and medical trial operation in 2013 and 2014, the first patient irradiation took place in 2016. The facility in Wiener Neustadt was realized with an investment volume of around 200 million euros. Currently, around 150 people work in Wiener Neustadt. When fully operational, the facility is expected to be able to treat around 1200 patients per year.

In a joint venture with Iran, the company worked with the Austrian authorities and Iran's ministry of health, ministry of foreign affairs and the Atomic Agency Organization of Iran to build a hospital providing ion therapy treatment.

The Tehran branch, which has been under construction and development since 2017 under the management of MedAustron Austria, is designed similarly to the parent company in Wiener Neustadt. Reportedly, about 30 scientists work there.

In 2019, Massud Mossaheb's family made a direct link between his stay in Iran and his consulting work for MedAustron, according to the daily newspaper "Der Standard". MedAustron CEO Alfred Zens, on the other hand, in an initial statement saw "no direct connection" between Mossaheb's imprisonment and the project. Only later did he confirm that Mossaheb had "accompanied part of the talks."

Problem of dual citizenship

Attempts by Austrian diplomacy under Schallenberg to intercede on behalf of Mossaheb have so far brought no success.

The main problem on the bilateral level seems to be that Iran does not accept the renunciation of Iranian citizenship and considers "former" Iranian citizens as purely Iranian citizens despite dual citizenships. "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not expatriate its citizens. Therefore, an Iranian dual national is only considered an Iranian in Iran and is subject to Iranian legislation."

Since international tensions with Iran have flared up again, arrests of dual nationals in Iran have increased, often on charges of "espionage," according to Western media.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the Iranian government has used imprisoned foreign nationals "as bargaining chips in its dealings with other nations."

Since the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in a pattern of detaining foreign nationals for extended periods.

Dual nationals are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary detention because Iran does not recognize dual nationality, and if one of the nationalities is Iranian, does not recognize other claims of nationality or allow foreign diplomats to intervene on that person's behalf, in accord with the Master Nationality Rule.

In November 2017, Reuters reported that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had arrested "at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges.

"According to Human Rights Watch, "Iranian authorities have violated detainees' due process rights and carried out a pattern of politically motivated arrests."

Of course, the two Austrians are not the only foreign citizens detained in Iran; there are several other foreigners who have also been arrested and sentenced in a similarly questionable manner.

As talks with Iran over its nuclear program continue, at least 16 dual nationals and one foreign national are known to be jailed or barred from leaving the country.

During the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow, a letter from the families of hostages taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran for diplomatic leverage was delivered to the representatives of various states. The letter reads as follows:

Letter from the families of hostages taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran for diplomatic leverage

To: Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany, Leonore Gewessler, Minister for Climate Action, Republic of Austria, Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic of France, Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden

"Dear Leader,

As a delegate to the COP26 conference in Glasgow you will certainly be aware of the importance of establishing global policies to address the developing emergency of climate change. In order to be effective all countries must commit to them seriously and without reservation as responsible members of the global community.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is also participating in this conference and will be working alongside leaders from many Countries including the USA, UK, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden and Canada. Unfortunately, there is at least one hostage from each of these Countries currently being held by Iran solely to be used for political leverage. Each victim has been held for long periods in solitary confinement without access to lawyers and convicted of false charges during sham trials.

Iran has used hostage diplomacy for several decades and weaponizes our family members as collateral in diplomatic negotiations. This practice is not just a humanitarian scandal but also a threat to global diplomacy.

In response we respectfully request the global community to speak out to support the universal human rights of all the victims of this practice by: 1. Recognising our family members formally as hostages 2. Supporting the embedding into the current JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) negotiations with Iran clear and effective mechanisms that discourage the taking of any new hostages 3. Ensuring that our family members are unconditionally released as a prior and completely separate transaction from the JCPOA

With kind regards,

  • Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Hostage since 2016
  • Mariam Claren, daughter of German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, Hostage since 2020
  • Sherry Izadi, wife of British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, Hostage since 2017
  • Family of Austrian-Iranian Dr. Massud Mossaheb, Hostage since 2019
  • Harika Ghaderi, wife of Austrian-Iranian Kamran Ghaderi, Hostage since 2016
  • Gazelle Sharmahd, daughter of German-Iranian Jamshid Sharmahd, Hostage since 2020
  • Family of French Benjamin Brière, Hostage since 2020
  • Vida Mehrannia, wife of Swedish-Iranian Ahmad Reza Djalali, Hostage since April 2016"

As recently as December 7, 2021, the U.S. State Department, under Antony Blinken, responded to human rights abuses by sanctioning several Iranian individuals and detention facilities for human rights offenses in a statement entitled "Targeting Repression and Supporting Democracy."

"The treasury sanctioned seven Iranian individuals and two Iranian law enforcement entities in connection with serious human rights abuse pursuant to E.O. 13553. Further, pursuant to Section 106 of CAATSA, the Department of State identified two entities and two individuals who are responsible for certain gross violations of internationally recognized human rights in Iran. This action under CAATSA included two prisons, the Zahedan Prison and Isfahan Central Prison, which are responsible for extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention."

Mossaheb reported to have health problems

Massud Mossaheb needs urgent specialist treatment and has to take daily medication as he suffers from severe health problems, including heart failure and diabetes.

Massud Mossaheb was in poor health prior to his imprisonment and regularly received medical treatment from specialists. According to information available to Amnesty International from informed sources as well as a letter that Massud Mossaheb wrote to the authorities from inside prison on 5 August 2020 requesting medical treatment, he suffers from several serious medical conditions and has had numerous operations in the past.

He suffers from heart disease; diabetes; kidney failure; fatty liver; and musculoskeletal problems of the knee, feet and back. He also suffers from recurrent episodes of the inflammatory bowel disease diverticulitis, for which he was due to have surgery to remove parts of his bowel when he was arrested. He previously had a transient ischaemic attack, also called a "mini stroke", which is a serious condition where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily disrupted. In 2011, he suffered complications following the surgical removal of the prostate. Several years ago, his thyroid gland was surgically removed, and he is required to take thyroid medication. He has been denied access to adequate medical care and to specialist medical professionals outside prison. For a time, he was also denied access to his daily medication.

Having already contracted COVID-19 in December 2020, Massud Mossaheb now suffers from asthma in addition to his pre-existing conditions.

The Vienna Medical Chamber (Ärztekammer Wien) informed already in January 2020, according to its then state of information, that his family only finally learned after weeks of uncertainty without contact to him that he was imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Mossaheb would still be held under inhumane conditions, under the constant threat of the death penalty without legal counsel and without the possibility of a fair trial.

To make matters worse, the Medical Chamber said, Mossaheb is multimorbid. He suffers from severe heart failure, type II diabetes, polyneuropathy, and diverticulitis, which is particularly painful. There is no adequate medical care. Mossaheb could not agree to a currently necessary surgical removal of several rapidly growing lipomas, benign tumors of the adipose tissue cells, because he was not assured of appropriate medical follow-up on the part of the prison's medical department.

Who is Kamran Ghaderi and why is he being imprisoned?

The second Iranian-Austrian currently in captivity is IT consultant and businessman Dr. Kamran Ghaderi.

He is also a dual citizen and holds both Austrian and Iranian citizenship.

On his last entry into Iran on 2 January 2016, he was arrested immediately after landing at the Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran by members of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Until April 2016, he was denied any contact with his family. He was only allowed to call his wife in Austria to tell her he was still alive. During this time, according to his own account, interrogators told him that his mother and brother had been arrested in Iran and threatened to hold them in prison if he did not sign two "confessions" that the authorities had prepared for him. These stated that he was working for the Austrian government and for the U.S. government. Only in April 2016, when his mother was finally allowed to visit him, did he learn that neither his mother nor his brother had been arrested.

On October 17, 2016 and after a dubious trial, the Iranian judiciary sentenced Ghaderi to 10 years in prison for espionage.

The reason given was "cooperation with hostile states against the Islamic Republic", i.e. that he is an Austrian spy. His prison sentence was imposed on the basis of "confessions" made under threats and prolonged solitary confinement.

His relatives report that he has been subjected to torture and inhumane detention conditions, and is being held in unbearable sanitary conditions.

For the first seven months of his detention, Kamran Ghaderi was also denied access to legal counsel. He was not allowed to see his lawyer until two days before the start of the trial. In addition, the Iranian authorities denied him access to consular assistance from Austria.

For nearly the first year of his arrest, Ghaderi has been held in solitary confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison. In April 2017, he was transferred to the general ward of Evin, where he shares a 25m² cell without windows with 16 other prisoners.

Since his arrest in January 2016, Kamran Ghaderi's health has deteriorated considerably. He has a tumor in his left leg for which he needs regular medical treatment.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry has been informed of the case. Attempts to secure his release have so far also been unsuccessful.

Kamran Ghaderi is married to Harika Ghaderi. They have three children.