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Economist journalist reveals held for 7 weeks by Iran in 2019

A senior journalist with the British current affairs weekly The Economist revealed in an article published Wednesday that he was held for seven weeks in Iran during the summer of 2019 despite holding a valid press visa, AFP reported.

Nicolas Pelham, The Economist's Middle East correspondent, said he travelled to the country in July 2019 after being granted a journalist visa but was then detained as he was checking out of his Tehran hotel before his flight home.

In an article for The Economist's lifestyle magazine 1843, Pelham said he had initially been held under arrest by guards but then allowed to live in an upscale Tehran hotel and even roam around the city.

After some false dawns, his British passport was finally returned in September 2019 and he was allowed to leave the country and return to London.

Pelham suggested in his article that his detention was part of a high-stakes powerplay within the Iranian regime at a time when tensions were soaring between Tehran and London over the impounding of ships.

He said his captors were from the elite Revolutionary Guards, which answers to the supreme leader. 

"The government's own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival," he wrote.

He added: "I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it."

Iran is still holding numerous Westerners in prison, in what Western governments argue amounts to hostage-taking but Tehran insists is the result of due legal process.

Asked for further comment by AFP, Pelham said in emailed remarks that he still did not understand what behind-the-scenes political moves had been behind his detention.

"You'll have to ask the Iranians," he said.

"It seems clear that they were not all on the same page. Many recognise the damage holding foreign nationals does to their foreign relations," he added.

Asked if he had drawn any final conclusion about his experience, Pelham said: "In future I would be wary of travelling alone to Iran."

French academics Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal have been imprisoned since June last year in a case that has raised tensions between Paris and Tehran.

Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert of the University of Melbourne is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges while British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a a five-year jail term.

Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his elderly father Mohammad Bagher Namazi were both sentenced to 10 years in jail in October 2016 "for spying and collaborating with the US government".