Iran Security Officials Arrest Spanish Nationals in Connection with Protests

Human rights groups report Thursday that Iranian security forces have arrested two Spanish nationals in connection with ongoing nationwide protests in the country.

The human rights news agency HRANA reports the Spanish nationals are still in detention, though little more is known about them.

The most recent arrest was 24-year-old Ana Baneira, who HRANA says was taken into custody during the protests and jailed “in recent days,” citing sources close to her family, though they said the actual date she was arrested and her whereabouts are unknown.

Her arrest follows that of 41-year-old Santiago Sanchez, who was arrested in the city of Saqqez after visiting the burial place of Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked the recent unrest. The Reuters news service reports Sanchez last sent a picture of himself to his friends on the Iraq-Iran border with the caption: “Entry to Iran.”

The Associated Press reported Thursday the Spanish Embassy in Tehran confirmed the arrests of both Spanish nationals and said its staff is in touch with Iranian authorities about them. AP reports Sanchez entered Iran as he was traveling from Madrid to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

HRANA also reported Thursday that security forces arrested Elham Afkari, the sister of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed in 2020 after being convicted of murder.

Iranian government-affiliated news agencies reported Elham Afkari was arrested at the border as she attempted to flee the country. They accused her of being an agent for the London-based Persian broadcast news organization, Iran International.

From its Twitter account, Iran International categorically denied “the Islamic Republic’s claim that Elham Afkari worked for or collaborated” with the broadcaster.

State media showed pictures it said were of Afkari’s arrest, in which she was seen with a large black blindfold over her face while seated in the back of a security vehicle with barred windows.

But her brother Saeed Afkari wrote on social media that his sister, her husband and their 3-year-old son were arrested in the southern city of Shiraz. Human rights groups also dispute the Iranian state-media version of the events.

Iran International reports Elham’s brother, wrestler Navid Afkari, was executed in September 2020, after participating in protests and being accused of killing a government employee. His execution led to strong domestic and international condemnations.

The news organization reports two other brothers of Afkari’s are still in prison serving a jail term of 66 years between them. The report goes on to say the family has been persecuted for more than four years, and Navid and his two brothers were subjected to extensive torture in prison.

The arrests come as protests that began in September continue across the country. They were sparked after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, from Iran’s Kurdish region, died after being taken into the custody of the morality police for allegedly not following the country’s strict dress code.

The protests represent one of the biggest domestic challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement protests. Some oil workers Monday joined the protests at two key refinery complexes, for the first time linking an industry that is key to the theocracy to the unrest.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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