Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been illegally detained in Iran for the past nineteen months. On 10 September 2016 she was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for ‘plotting against the Iranian regime.’ This month, it was revealed that due to a blunder by our Foreign Secretary, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be facing an additional sixteen years in prison for a crime that she did not commit.
Nazanin was on holiday in Iran, visiting her parents, along with her 3-year-old daughter when she was arrested by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been at the airport, preparing to fly home to the UK. She spent the first 45 days of her time in prison in solitary confinement, subjected to psychological torture.
When Nazanin was arrested, officers did not present an arrest warrant. The reason for her arrest was not initially made clear. She was blindfolded and underwent extensive interrogation for three weeks. During this time, Nazanin did not have access to a lawyer. All of these actions are illegal under Iranian law.
It had been signalled that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe could have been eligible for early release this month. However, due to the suggestion by Boris Johnson that Nazanin was ‘just teaching people journalism,’ the possibility of her early release is now is looking depressingly unrealistic. The Iranian government have taken it upon themselves to use the incompetent remarks of the Foreign Secretary as leverage against Nazanin in order to increase the length of her sentence.
Mr Johnson did subsequently apologise for his remarks, albeit, rather halfheartedly. However, the Foreign Secretary is still yet to admit that he was wrong. To make matters worse, less than a week after Boris Johnson’s misapprehended remarks, Michael Gove MP also seemed to jeopardise Nazanin’s chances of freedom from her terrible ordeal. In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove was asked what he thought Nazanin was doing when she was arrested in Iran, he replied, ‘I don’t know.’
It would seem that Boris Johnson and his colleagues are more concerned with keeping Boris out of political trouble than they are with a British woman’s life. Last time I checked, it was not the job of a Foreign Secretary to be so concerned with his own pride. Rather, it was the job of a Foreign Secretary to promote human rights around the world.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been made to endure unimaginable amounts of suffering. During her time in Evin prison, concerns have been raised about her mental health as well as her physical health over and over again. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have also fallen victim to an incomprehensible amount of agony. Nazanin’s three-year-old daughter, has been separated from her parents for over a year and a half. She has lost her ability to speak English and can no longer communicate with her anguished father who has been campaigning relentlessly for the release of his wife.
The British government has made little attempt to stand up for the human rights of its own citizen. It is shameful that it has taken nineteen months and an unwarranted remark by the Foreign Secretary, for the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to receive the global media attention that it deserves. This media attention has rightly so, put immense pressure on Boris Johnson to finally commit to a long overdue meeting with Richard Ratcliffe and his local MP, Tulip Siddiq.
In this meeting, the possibility of diplomatic protection for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe along with the potential for a visit by Mr Johnson to Tehran to visit Nazanin in prison (something that Boris Johnson should have done ages ago) were discussed. Whist this may seem like a positive step forward in the way of Nazanin’s freedom, it is worth keeping in mind that this is the first major step that the British government have taken towards demanding the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Some senior cabinet ministers have warned, that to focus blame on Boris Johnson would shift the blame away from the Iranian government who are the real perpetrators of the abuse of human rights. Whist it is undeniable that the Iranian regime have failed to uphold their own laws, as the Foreign Secretary, it is absolutely vital that Boris Johnson is held to account for his remarks. It is crucial that Boris Johnson uses his influence as the Foreign Secretary, to do whatever he can to put pressure on Iran to release an illegally imprisoned British citizen.
It is also important that Boris Johnson recognises the gravity of his comments and the responsibility that comes with his senior position within the government. If Nazanin spends a day more in Evin prison as a consequence of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks, then, Boris Johnson must do the honorable thing, and resign.
The plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one that must not go unnoticed. It is a plight whose cause is rooted in the corruption and the cruelty of the Iranian regime. The abundance of action from the British government is ultimately what has allowed Nazanin’s horrific situation to be maintained. Take action, and sign the petition to demand Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.