Free Nazanin: UK government ‘needs to be honest, these people are hostages’ says Richard Ratcliffe as he praises Panorama documentary
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Richard Ratcliffe has called for “honesty” from the British government about Iran’s practice of using imprisoned dual-nationals like his wife as hostages.
Speaking to the Ham&High, he praised the BBC’s Panorama team for “taking a strong line” and said he would be putting pressure on the government to acknowledge that Nazanin and others like her are being held for political gain – not because they have or haven’t committed a crime.
The Panorama programme aired on Monday evening and featured Richard along with the family of Anoosheh Ashoori, who is also being held captive in Iran.
This week Richard’s lawyers also wrote to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to demand a meeting with the defence secretary in order to raise “grave concerns” about the UK’s “failure to pay up” the £450m debt it owes Iran.
READ MORE: Families of Iran hostages – including Nazanin’s – slam delays in repaying £450m debtThe lawyers wrote: “This failure continues to blight UK-Iranian relations and remains an intractable obstacle to Nazanin’s long-overdue release.”
The letter calls on the government to address the continued “abuse” of prisoners in Iran like Nazanin.
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Richard also drew attention to the decision to hold the next hearing about the debt until the day after the US election this November. “That’s not a clearly not a coincidence,” he said.
Referring to the BBC documentary, Richard said: “I’m really glad it went out, and it took such a strong line on hostage-taking. Especially as the government refused to acknowledge that. Honesty about what’s going on is the first step.”
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He said the programme’s contrasting of the British government with its US counterpart was stark – because America has successfully brought people previously imprisoned in Iran home.
READ MORE: #FREENAZANINHe added: “I don’t think it’s always acknowledged that the UK is pretty much the worst at this. In the last twelve months, the US, France, Germany, Australia have all got people home.
“The US has a terrible relationship with Iran yet it’s still getting people home. It’s about political priorities and structures.”
Nazanin has been under effective house-arrest in Tehran after being allowed to leave prison on furlough during the pandemic.
Richard said Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) would continue to treat people as they have Nazanin unless the UK government made clear this was not acceptable.
“Even since Nazanin was allowed out of prison, a British man has been sentenced to ten years, there may well be others we don’t know about. The IRGC have clearly decided this is a good tactic and they’re not going to decide it isn’t until the government makes that it isn’t,” he said.
“Panorama made it quite clear – you can do nothing but more innocent people will be put in prison, and people will continue to suffer.”
It is now more than four years since Nazanin was arrested in Tehran’s airport, at the conclusion of a holiday she had taken to introduce her parents to their grandchild – the couple’s daughter Gabriella.
She was kept for a substantial time in solitary confinement, saw medical treatment withheld, and spent time handcuffed to a hospital bed in 2019 and held a number of hunger strikes before she was eventually allowed out of prison on furlough when the coronavirus pandemic hit Iran.
Stuck at her parents’ Tehran home with an ankle tag limiting her movements to within 300m of the property, Richard said her mood “remains up and down” – and she remains scared her ordeal shows no signs of ending.
The family’s continued fear is that a second court case against her could be revived as the end of her five year sentence draws near.
Richard said even this was a farce – as by its own laws Iran should have given Nazanin clemency this year.
“She’s the only one of hundreds who didn’t get this”, Richard said. “And at that point who are we kidding?”
He added: “Part of the government’s caution is well-founded, but they have no ‘do nothing’ option. The first step is acknowledging they have a problem.”
Publicly the Iranian authorities and the UK government have denied any link between the debt and Nazanin’s imprisonment, with the Foreign Office adding: “It is unhelpful to suggest otherwise.”
Whitehall has said it remains committed to pushing for “the immediate and permanent release” of all dual-nationals locked up in Iran, and that the prime minister, foreign secretary and British ambassador in Iran are regularly lobbying for this.