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Iran: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in securing the release from Iran of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter; and what assessment they have made of the detention and execution of dual nationals in Iran.

My Lords, we continue to raise our strong concerns about British prisoners in Iran, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels in both London and Tehran. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary did so in their introductory calls with their Iranian counterparts. We cannot assess the conditions of dual nationals detained in Iran as the Iranian Government do not grant us consular access. We oppose the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In the upgrading announced yesterday of our diplomatic relations with Iran, and the decision of British Airways to provide six flights a week to Iran, what account was taken of this brutal regime’s execution of 1,000 people last year, the continuing incarceration of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the detention of her two year-old British daughter whose passport has been confiscated? Setting aside the prematurity of that decision, given that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in solitary confinement and suffering dangerous weight loss and loss of mobility, what can the Minister tell us about the state of her health, the plight of her daughter and whether, as part of the deal in upgrading diplomatic relations, we have secured consular rights of access to the prison?

My Lords, to address the main points there, we share the concerns of this family about the situation. The stresses and strains that they have been through are appalling and we have a great care for not only Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe but her whole family, including Gabriella. Gabriella is not detained in Iran. We have not requested the return of her passport, as her father has decided that she should stay with her grandparents for the time being. With regard to the generality of the noble Lord’s questions about BA, that is a commercial relationship but of course it is part of the development whereby we see Iran coming back into the international community, with all the responsibilities that that involves. Yesterday, when the Foreign Secretary commented on the upgrade of diplomatic relations, he specifically said that it,

“gives us the opportunity to develop our discussions on a range of issues, including our consular cases”.

My Lords, I knew Richard Ratcliffe when he was an accountant at the National Audit Office. He was seconded to the International Development Committee, which I chaired, and gave us very good work. The only reason why his wife and daughter were in Iran was to visit her family, Gabriella’s grandparents. It was on their return that they were arrested. There is no evidence whatever and no charges have been brought. In the circumstances, should the Government not make it clear that it is unacceptable for Iran to expect an improvement in relations if it behaves like this? The Government have previously forbidden BA to operate, as they did during the Ebola operation in Sierra Leone. They could do so now with regard to Iran.

My Lords, it is a fact that we take consular cases very seriously. It is also a fact that Mrs Ratcliffe has dual nationality. We are therefore not able to have consular access; we have our contact through the family. That does not mean that we take no action, it means that we support wherever we can, including pressing for proper access to health and legal representation, and that we do. As I mentioned a moment ago, it is our assessment that by ensuring that we have an ambassador there, we are in a better position properly to press the case for consular access and for proper treatment of people who hold dual nationality. As the noble Lord will know, dual nationality is not recognised by Iran. We find that wrong.

My Lords, I fully support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Will the Minister attempt to put Iran’s ongoing outrages in context? Is she aware of the audiotape released on 9 August this year featuring the late Hoseyn Ali Montazeri addressing the 1988 death committee, when he pleaded in vain opposing the massacre of 30,000 Iranians? Instead of some parliamentary colleagues pandering to the mullahs’ regime through goodwill visits to Tehran, is it not time that our Government gave a lead by pressing at international level prosecutions of those criminals, some of whom are still in power?

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord refers to the reports of a 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran. It is absolutely the fact that Iran’s human rights record remains a serious concern—it is appalling—in particular in its use of the death penalty. However, the UK Government have little corroborated evidence of the reported massacre to which the noble Lord refers, which the Iranian Government have repeatedly denied took place. We still press the fact in our engagement with Iran that their re-engagement with the international community brings with it responsibilities on human rights.

My Lords, as an Iranian-born Member of your Lordships’ House, I feel very vulnerable about ever returning home. Now that negotiations are ongoing about Iran’s participation, it is essential that we ask the Government to deliver, particularly on the arrest of human rights activists, scholars and feminists in Iran. There must be negotiations and conditionality for international participation.

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises the important point that when human rights are abused, it undermines the way in which society and government work. Not only have our Government frequently released statements condemning the human rights situation in Iran which cover the issues that the noble Baroness mentioned, we have joined action led by the international community. We have designated more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations under EU sanctions, we have helped establish a UN special rapporteur on Iranian human rights and lobbied at the UN for the adoption of a human rights resolution on Iran. We will continue to fight for the causes the noble Baroness describes.

My Lords, have Foreign Office Ministers called in the Iranian ambassador to discuss this issue and, if not, are there plans for Ministers to ask the Iranian ambassador to come into the Foreign Office to discuss it, since after all it is a really serious issue for us?

My Lords, as I explained earlier, the agreement to have an ambassador in Iran occurred only yesterday, so the letters of accreditation were presented then. At this stage, we are looking to pursue the implications of having representation at ambassadorial level. I hear what the noble Baroness says and feel the concern of this House, which I take into account.