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The Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands), seat of the International Court of Justice. © Jeroen Bouman, courtesy of the ICJ

This week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ Court, held hearings on a case Iran has brought against the United States. Iran is arguing that because the US withdrew from the nuclear agreement and is unilaterally imposing economic sanctions, the US has violated the terms of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, known as the “Treaty of Amity,” between the two countries.

The irony is, while Iran accuses the US of breaking the treaty, Iranian courts continue to convict people of “cooperating with a hostile country” – despite clear instructions to the contrary from the Supreme Court.

Millions of Iranians whose livelihood have been hit hard by the US withdrawal and subsequent imposition of sanctions are following the ICJ proceedings. But for families of several Iranian dual nationals, invoking the Treaty of Amity is also a bitter reminder of continued detention of their loved ones. Iranian counsel to imprisoned Iranian-US citizens Baquer and Siamak Namazi have now lodged an appeal with the Iranian Supreme Court in response to Iran’s case at the ICJ, said Jared Genser, their lawyer, in a statement on August 28.

In the past several years, Iran has charged several individuals with “cooperating with the hostile country of the United States,” including Namazis, two Iranian-Americans who are serving 10-year prison sentences.

This isn’t the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on this issue. In 2014, in accepting the appeal of Omid Kokabi, a young physicist charged with cooperating with the US as a hostile government, the court explicitly stated that “no government [including the United States] is in a state of hostility with Iran” and that “political differences” are not sufficient to classify a state as “hostile.” Despite this clear guidance, the revolutionary courts have blatantly ignored this interpretation and sentenced at least five individuals to 10 years in prison on this charge.

When the law is applied in so vague a way that people cannot predict which acts are crimes, then prosecutions are arbitrary. If Iran wants its grievances to be taken seriously on the international stage, it should respect its own rights obligations at home. It should start by releasing all individuals arbitrarily arrested and charged with vague and ill-defined crimes.

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