Skip to main content

Iran: Ghoncheh Ghavami

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made representations to the government of Iran on behalf of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a joint British and Iranian citizen who was jailed for a year after attending an International Volleyball Federation World League match in Iran.

My Lords, the Government have raised the case of Miss Ghoncheh Ghavami with the Iranian authorities on many occasions, most recently on 23 November. We welcome the news that Miss Ghavami has been released on bail, and will remain in close touch with her family.

My Lords, while welcoming the news that following the Foreign Secretary’s intervention, Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British and Iranian national, is no longer serving the sentence of a year in prison for seeking to attend a men-only volleyball match in Tehran, will the Government do all that they can to ensure that the result of her forthcoming appeal does not return her to prison, that all charges against Ghoncheh are dropped and that she is released from her two-year travel ban?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for raising this case. When a British citizen is being wrongly treated anywhere in the world, we have to be active on that person’s behalf. I thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministers for the efforts they have made, as well as the work done by Miss Ghavami’s Member of Parliament, the honourable Andy Slaughter, on his constituent’s behalf. Please will the Minister ensure that the strenuous diplomatic efforts that have already been made continue—perhaps in the margins of today’s Afghan conference—so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, this British citizen may return home as soon as possible?

My Lords, I understand that Mr Zarif is not attending today’s Afghan conference, but there will be Iranian representation. Those conversations certainly continue. One problem is that Miss Ghavami is a dual national, and the Iranians do not recognise the status of dual nationality.

My Lords, talking of returning home, 92 years ago yesterday, the cruiser “Calypso” steamed into Phaleron Bay and picked up a family going into exile. The youngest child was 18 months old and was in an orange box for his cot. He became an Admiral of the Fleet 30 years later. Would the Minister like to thank the Duke of Edinburgh for the huge amount he has done for our nation over that period?

When the noble Lord mentioned an orange box, I thought we were getting into Mosaic dimensions. Of course, we thank him for his contribution.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is a delicate business to seek to interfere with the judicial and legal process of another country? However deplorable we know it to be, the law of Iran is the law of Iran. We must therefore act delicately, let us say, in seeking to assist this young woman.

My Lords, we are certainly acting delicately. We all understand the delicacy of raising human rights issues with other countries. However, the human rights situation in Iran is dire. The periodic universal review of the Iranian position on human rights by the Human Rights Council, which is now under way, has raised a number of serious issues. Her Majesty’s Government contributed to raising those issues and we look forward cautiously to Iran’s response at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council in March 2015.

My Lords, while I do not necessarily suggest that we emulate the Don Pacifico incident, there is a limit to delicacy.

My Lords, of course there is a limit to delicacy. The Iranian political system is one of the most complex in the world. We are dealing with a democratically elected President, a judiciary that is partly responsible to the clergy and a Supreme Leader, not to mention the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. We are never quite sure, as we negotiate with the Iranian authorities, which authorities have the key ability to respond.

My Lords, an area of serious concern is the public hangings that take place in Iran. Next week, we celebrate International Human Rights Day. Is it possible for the Government to make representations to see whether some sort of moratorium could be established until such time as progress is made with these discussions?

My Lords, we all know that Iran is second only to China in the number of people executed per year. That is an issue that we and others have raised during the UN human rights review.

My Lords, given that Iran has apparently been involved in bombing IS in Iraq, will the Government take great care to ensure that human rights are not decoupled from other activities in relation to Iraq, as well as Iran? Will my noble friend assure the House that representations will be made to ensure that the Iranian Government do not begin to hold sway over human rights issues arising in Iraq, where they are looking extremely influential at the moment?

My Lords, Iran is not the only state in the Middle East with which we have issues about human rights. We certainly do not intend to uncouple human rights from other issues, but we are also in the middle of some immensely complex nuclear negotiations with Iran, and then there are the many complications of the anti-ISIL campaigns.