A mother is being held prisoner, and people are calling for Boris Johnson to step up and help

Boris Johnson on Toby Young
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People are calling on Boris Johnson to step up and help to end one mother’s nightmare imprisonment. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British citizen who has spent over 500 days in an Iranian jail. But now, she has learned of a new twist in her case that could see her spending another 16 years in prison.

A coup plot, or a “complete invention”?

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national, arrested by officials when she visited Iran with her daughter Gabriella in April 2016. A hardline judge within one of Iran’s courts carried out the trial in secret, which human rights campaigners called “unfair”.

Now, according to a statement from the Free Nazanin campaign seen by The Canary, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has asked for the reopening of her case. Monique Villa, CEO of her previous employer the Thomson Reuters Foundation, responded by saying:

These charges are linked to her work at BBC Media Action and at the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The accusation states that her charity work was a screen to overthrow the Iranian regime. This is a complete invention as the Thomson Reuters Foundation doesn’t work in Iran and has no programme or dealings with Iran.

Call for her release now

The timing of this news seems particularly cruel because the IRGC recently denied Zaghari-Ratcliffe temporary release. According to the statement, Zaghari-Ratcliffe responded to the news by saying:

I have always been honest with them about what I have done and who I worked for. I was not trying to overthrow the regime. I love my country. It is ridiculous. I have not done anything since I was sentenced. I have just been a prisoner in the corner, enduring quietly. What have they done this for?

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has been lobbying for Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to intervene; with the support of Ratcliffe’s MP, Tulip Siddiq.

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Siddiq called the latest development an “outrage”. She also said:

There is a clear pattern of Iran treating British dual nationals in this way, and the Government’s soft-ball approach to the Iranian Authorities seems to be doing little to improve their plight.

The Foreign Secretary must formally and unreservedly call for my constituent’s release, and must express his concerns at these developments with his counterpart in the Iranian Government.

Iran is also holding several other dual citizens that it only recognises as Iranian. And their plight was the subject of a debate in July. During the debate, the Minister of State for Middle East Affairs Alistair Burt said that the government is generally unable to assist dual nationals if the other country does not recognise their right to provide consular assistance (like Iran). Burt also suggested they must play the long game with Iran and build up relations in order for things to change. But Siddiq said the FCO’s approach must change.

A political pawn?

Ratcliffe and campaigners have always said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a political pawn for Iran and Britain.

The Free Nazanin campaign said in its statement that the IRGC invented the charges; this was following diplomatic efforts between the UK and Iran’s President Rouhani, which the IRGC may resent.

Rouhani has previously said [1:30] that he has his own “sensitivities” on the issue, but that the judiciary is independent.

Meanwhile, an FCO spokesperson told The Canary:

We are concerned following reports that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been charged with additional crimes. We have not seen the details of these charges from official sources so are unable to comment on their substance. We are seeking more information from the Iranian authorities.

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have both raised all our ongoing consular cases with their counterparts in Tehran, most recently at the UN General Assembly in September.

We continue to be concerned for the welfare for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and have repeatedly raised this with the Iranian authorities, urging them to provide all necessary medical assistance.

Her family have regular access to FCO officials. The Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt MP, has met Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family both in London and in Tehran to discuss her case, and hopes to meet with them again later this month.

We will continue to raise all our dual national detainees, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with the Iranian Government at every available opportunity.

Iran and the UK’s continuing relationship

Despite stating concern over the case, the UK has not slowed trade relations with Iran. In fact, most recently, there has been a new £440m contract between the Iranian Ministry of Energy and Quercus (a UK company) to develop a solar farm in Iran.

There is no doubt that Iran and the UK share a troubled history. And the complex power structure in Iran still makes negotiations difficult. But the UK government is seemingly providing little incentive for Iran to take any action over Zaghari-Ratcliffe or others like her. And this allows the nightmare for this woman and her family to continue.

There is significant outrage, and demands for action. And Johnson and the UK government must step up and act now.

Get Involved!

– Write to Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister, asking them to put pressure on Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Write to your MP, asking them to push the government to change the policy toward dual nationals.

– Read more Canary articles on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Featured image via Flickr

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