Iranian state television has broadcast videos focusing on a detained American graduate student and an Iranian-British woman, moves seen by their spouses as an effort to pressure the U.S. and U.K. governments ahead of decisions of critical importance to Tehran.
The November 26 broadcasts came weeks ahead of a deadline for the U.S. Congress to decide whether economic sanctions lifted under the 2015 Iran nuclear accord should be reimposed, while Britain is considering whether to make a $530 million payment to Tehran.
One broadcast focused on American Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University student arrested on August 8, 2016, while conducting research for his dissertation on Iran's Qajar dynasty.
The Iranian authorities accused him of "spying under the cover of research," charges his family and the university have strongly denied. He received a 10-year prison sentence in July.
"He traveled to Iran solely to study Farsi and to examine historical documents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He described his research plans in advance to the Iranian authorities and the libraries and archives he planned to visit, and he only sought access to materials that he needed for his dissertation," the university said.
The program broadcast on November 26 alleged that Wang attempted to scan 4,500 pages of sensitive documents and pay thousands of dollars to access confidential areas of Tehran libraries.
The video showed him in what appeared to be an Iranian courtroom and of him speaking emotionally to a camera.
"About Iran in that regard, the more knowledge the United States possesses about Iran, the better for its policy toward Iran," he said in the video. "There is no doubt about it. It is quite obvious."
In July, U.S. President Donald Trump warned that Iran faces "new and serious consequences" unless all "unjustly detained" American citizens are released and returned.
Wang's wife, Hua Qu, noted to the Associated Press that the video airing came ahead of the deadline for the U.S. Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities.
In October, Trump refused to recertify the deal while accusing Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement. His move, which did not constitute a U.S. exit from the accord, left its fate to Congress, which will likely decide in mid-December.
Earlier on November 26, Iranian television also broadcast footage of imprisoned British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, including new allegations of spreading propaganda that could add 16 years to her already- imposed sentence of five years.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was convicted on charges of planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling there with her toddler daughter.
Authorities in Iran reportedly have set a trial date of December 10 on the propaganda charges.
London is considering repaying Tehran some $530 million from a pre-Revolution arms deal from the 1970s. Both sides say the money isn't related to Zaghari-Ratcliffe, although the United States made a similar payment to Iran after Tehran released four U.S. citizens in 2016.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband told the AP that the Iranian report on his wife appears to be timed to exert pressure on the British government. He denied his wife was carrying out any illegal activity in Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of several dual nationals held in Iran by hard-liners in the country's judiciary and security services. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, which means they cannot receive diplomatic protections such as consular visits.
Critics and family members of several detainees have suggested the hard-liners are using the prisoners as bargaining chips for money or influence, while a United Nations panel in September described "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals" in Iran.
With on reporting by Reuters, AP, and the Guardian