Iranian expats visiting Iran recently have reported that intelligence agents interrogated them at the airport to collect financial and personal infomation.
Rouydad24, a news website in Tehran quoted a passenger who arrived in Tehran on a flight from the Netherlands, as saying, "A security officer took my wife and me to the interrogation room after passport control and asked us to fill in a form about our addresses, income, and place of residence." He said that several others were sitting in the same room filling forms. He added that the officers also asked them about other countries they have visited.
Airport officials have distanced themselves from the development by making it clear that they had nothing to do with the interrogations that continue to be made by intelligence organizations.
The Iranian government and its top officials including President Ebrahim Raisi, Judiciary Chief Gholamhosein Ejei and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian have recently called on Iranian expats to return to Iran and invest in their homeland. It is still not known whether the interrogations are linked to this, or it is an independent project carried out by intelligence organizations.
The development has been a cause for concern among Iranians living abroad as it is also not clear whether everyone who has been interrogated was allowed to leave the airport or some of the passengers have been held by the authorities.
Iran is known for taking dual citizens hostage and using them as pawns in their negotiations with other countries. Several Iranian officials including former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had frequently put forward the idea of exchanging such hostages with pro-regime Iranians in prison in other countries.
The Iranian Rouydad24 news website says the interrogations are against the government's general policies about expat Iranians.
The Foreign Minister has recently said that his ministry has set up a website that Iranians abroad can visit and find out if they might be arrested when travelling to Iran. He said that the website is linked to the Iranian Judiciary and the intelligence services. Iran has more than a dozen intelligence services. The most powerful ones are the Ministry of Intelligence and the Intelligence Organization of the IRGC. Recently, the Iranian police has also announced the launch of its own intelligence organization.
These organizations do not necessarily work in coordination. Recently, while the Intelligence Ministry told Iranian Academic Saeed Madani that he is free to go to the United States for a sabbatical, the IRGC's Intelligence Organization stopped him at the airport and confiscated his passport. Madani has complained to the Judiciary Chief, so far to no avail.
Some Iranian travellers said officials handpick a few passengers from a flight and take them to a room for interrogation. Others have said that occasionally, all Iranian passengers of a flight are taken for interrogation as officials hope they can find someone with a problem among a larger number of passengers. Most visitors being interrogated reportedly come from Europe. However, some may be coming from the United States as there are no direct flights between Iran and the United States.
Another passenger coming from Germany gave almost the same description about his case but added that it appeared the officers were particularly looking for dual nationals among the passengers.