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House of Lords Hansard
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
17 October 2017
Volume 785

Question

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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 national citizen detained in Iran.

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My Lords, we raise all our British-Iranian dual nationality detainee cases with the Iranian authorities at every opportunity, including the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East, the right honourable Alistair Burt MP, raised these cases with their Iranian counterparts at the UN General Assembly in September. Our ambassador in Tehran raises these cases at every opportunity, most recently with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister on 16 October.

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I thank the Minister for that Answer, but softly, softly seems not to be working. The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Shirin Ebadi has advised that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s first trial and imprisonment, let alone the new charges, are illegal under Iranian law. What is the Government’s assessment of this advice? Do the Government agree that they have the power to take legal action against the Iranian Government to protect Mrs Ratcliffe’s rights as a British citizen? Will they now do so?

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My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the reports, which were widely reported in the UK, that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been charged with additional crimes. We are aware of those reports, but we have not yet seen the details of the charges from any official sources and we are urgently seeking further information from the Iranian authorities. The noble Baroness refers to a softly, softly approach. We continue to raise these issues consistently; indeed, last week my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Foreign Minister of Iran and the Vice President of Iran and raised this case and all cases of dual nationals. There is complexity here because, as the noble Baroness will be aware, not all countries recognise dual nationality. Iran is one of those countries. However, we continue to be consistent and to raise all these cases on a regular basis. We will continue to do so to ensure that we can secure the release of all the detainees currently being held.

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My Lords, as an Iranian-born Member of this House, I say that it would be extremely helpful not only to Nazanin Zaghari but to all defenders of human rights and all women in Iran if the Government insisted that the Iranian Government respect their own rules and regulations and allow that all prisoners are entitled to proper representation. The difficulty here is that it is the Revolutionary Guards who are preventing the process. I am sure the Government would help the Iranian Government and Iranian citizens in prison by insisting that consideration of the proper legal representation of prisoners be maintained at all points.

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The noble Baroness obviously speaks with great knowledge of Iran. I assure her and indeed the whole House that we continue to raise these issues in a robust manner. I am acutely aware of the details of all these cases due to my responsibilities as Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Equally, the noble Baroness will be aware that she calls upon certain elements within the Iranian Administration; I hope they heed that call but, unlike the UK, Iran does not legally recognise dual nationalities, so it views these detainees as Iranian nationals.

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My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the softly, softly approach. Are the Iranians, in response to our representations, criticising any public campaign on behalf of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe? If they are, it is about time that we stopped the softly, softly approach and started shouting from the rooftops that the rule of law must apply.

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When it comes to human rights anywhere—whether it is in Iran, or the issue of detainees in Iran who are dual nationals—the UK continues not only to fulfil its obligations but to demand consular access. As I said before, the Iranians view this case and others like it in a different light because they do not view the people involved as dual nationals. The noble Lord is right to raise this important issue but it is for the Iranian Government to respond to the international pressure coming not just from the UK but from other countries. We will continue to press the Iranian Government for early release.

At the same time, I can report some progress in this case. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been granted access to her family in Iran, together with her daughter, and I understand that they visit her at least weekly. She has also been having telephone calls with her husband. These are small steps forward and we will continue to make all representations at the highest level to ensure that we see a resolution of this case, and indeed the cases of all dual nationals who are currently in Iranian prisons.

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My Lords, I strongly agree with the comments that have been made. I know my noble friend recognises that we remain strongly in support of the Iran nuclear deal, which of course has been questioned on the other side of the Atlantic. Will he reassure us that, even while we do that, we will in no way relax our focused criticism of the appalling intolerance and violence of aspects of the Iranian regime, particularly its constant destabilising activity throughout the Middle East, which has caused enormous suffering to many peoples in the area?

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I could not have articulated the Government’s position better myself. My noble friend is quite correct that we are supporters of ensuring that the nuclear deal that was reached with Iran is sustained and strengthened, but that in no way takes away from our strong representations about the abuses that we see. Indeed, their growing influence in certain parts of the Middle East, as my noble friend said, is destabilising to the region and, I would suggest, to the global picture as a whole.