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House of Lords Hansard
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Iran: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
02 February 2017
Volume 778

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in relation to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen detained in Iran.

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My Lords, the Government were very disappointed to hear the outcome of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s appeal on 22 January. We continue to raise our strong concerns at the highest levels in both London and Tehran over the treatment and welfare of all British-Iranian dual nationals imprisoned in Iran. FCO officials are in regular contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and we continue to do everything we can for the family.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. Unlike Mr Trump, we seek improved relations with Iran, but here we have a young mother, a British-Iranian citizen, imprisoned after visiting her family there with her daughter—her daughter is solely a British citizen. Surely the time has come for the UK to call for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release before she, her little daughter and her husband—who is here today with his own mother—suffer further.

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My Lords, the suffering of the family can barely be imagined and throughout all this, regardless of some of the extraordinary claims made on the internet, we should remember that this is a loving father who simply wants his family to be reunited. I wholly respect that, which is why we are urgently seeking information on what further legal avenues are available to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We undertake that the FCO will continue to offer support to the family, both here in London and in Tehran. We are working towards the positive resolution of this, because that is the right thing for us all to do.

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My Lords, I first draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, as chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and as the Government’s trade envoy to Iran. Is the Minister aware that I have raised this issue with the Iranian Government? I associate myself wholly with the Question that has been asked. Has the Minister noticed the statement by the President of Iran, the moderate President Rouhani, who has said that if Iran is to attract more investment and commercial engagement with the wider world, it needs to make people who visit Iran both welcome and safe? Is it not the case that this treatment of Nazanin not only is a tragedy for her but is harming prospects for investment and the future of the Iranian people?

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My Lords, I entirely agree with every word that my noble friend has uttered.

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My Lords, in addition to the cruel and manipulative treatment of this family by the Iranian authorities, which were responsible for more than 1,000 executions in one recent year, including women and teenagers, is the Minister aware that predatory attempts have been made to extract money from Nazanin’s husband Richard by so-called intermediaries preying on their sense of desperation? Can the Minister add to what she told us a moment ago and say when our consular officials last saw Nazanin and also tell the House what she can about the other three British citizens who are being held in Iranian jails?

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My Lords, I have read newspaper reports of the appalling attempt to gain money from the family, which the noble Lord has just described, but they are newspaper reports—I personally do not have details of that. It is a fact that those who are dual nationals face significant problems if they are detained in Iran, because we do not have consular access to them. We can ask, but we cannot insist—although it does not stop us continuing to ask. As recently as this Tuesday, my honourable friend Tobias Ellwood met Mr Ratcliffe to update him on what happened when Tobias visited Tehran earlier in January. Officials met the family recently and Tobias also met the family when he was in Tehran. Those meetings will continue, because our only intent is to resolve this issue in a positive way for the family.

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My Lords, I appreciated what the Minister said in the Chamber last week in the debate that we had on this subject—I raised specific questions. I understand the Government’s commitment to do all they can in the circumstances, but the Minister said last week that we were awaiting the end of the judicial process before making any demands for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. Can she reassure the House that when they are satisfied that the process has been concluded, we will immediately demand her release?

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My Lords, one of our problems is in having information about the process itself, and when it has been resolved within the court system—in the debate, as the noble Lord will remember, I carefully declined to call it a judicial system and referred to it as a court system. As I said earlier, we are urgently seeking information on what further legal avenues may be available to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and we will support the family through that process. The judiciary falls under the auspices of the Supreme Leader, and its shortcomings are evident: I choose my words very carefully, to be accurate. Those standing trial on political or politically-related charges are often denied proper access to a lawyer, which results in defendants lacking a proper defence during their trial. This is an appalling situation.

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My Lords, does the Minister understand the disappointment felt by those who supported the nuclear agreement and who have welcomed the improving relations between Iran and the United Kingdom? Would it not be unfortunate, to say the least, if the fact that this matter is not resolved should sully or undermine that emerging and improving relationship?

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As so often, I agree with the noble Lord.

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My Lords, the child is, I understand, entirely a British subject. What are the Government doing about a British subject being held in Iran?

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My Lords, we—I at this Dispatch Box and also colleagues in another place—have made it clear that we stand ready to facilitate the return of Gabriella to this country. She is indeed solely a British citizen, and we stand ready to assist if the family asks us to do so.