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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Volume 799: debated on Monday 7 October 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Statement is as follows:

“I start by congratulating the honourable Lady on her Urgent Question. I also thank her for the passion and persistence that she has brought to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case. Her constituent can be sure that she and her family have been well served by her as a constituency MP.

In recent weeks, we have seen further cases of unwarranted detentions of foreign nationals in Iran. These cases are completely devastating for the individuals concerned and are deeply upsetting for their families. However, we are of course delighted to hear that Joely King, a British-Australian national, has been released from detention in Iran. This is good news, but it invites us to think about others who are detained in Tehran. But equating the cases of foreign nationals in detention in Iran and the cases of British-Iranian dual nationals is unlikely to be helpful, since Iran perceives the two to be quite distinct, and it is Iran with which we have to deal.

We want to do everything we can to resolve Nazanin’s case. We also want to see the resolution of the cases of other British-Iranians detained in Iran. The trouble is that the Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationality. They consider Nazanin simply to be an Iranian national. Consequently, they do not grant us consular access nor give us sight of the legal process or charges, despite all our efforts. The House will be fully aware of the lengthy chronology of representations made at ministerial level on this issue. On 11 September, the Foreign Secretary again raised his serious concerns with the Iranian ambassador to London about Iran’s practice of detaining foreign and dual nationals. The Prime Minister raised his concerns with President Rouhani on 24 September, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did so with Foreign Minister Zarif on 17 September. My colleague Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon hosted an event at the UN General Assembly on 25 September to bring attention to these incredibly important issues; and I did so myself in Tehran earlier this year. I can assure the House that our efforts to raise the plight of those detained with the Iranian authorities at ministerial and ambassadorial level will continue.

It is a matter of deep regret that a country such as Iran, with such a rich history, is failing to uphold its basic international obligations. That this sophisticated and cultured country is arresting individuals on unclear charges, failing to afford them due process and, in some cases, committing acts of torture and mistreatment, not only on dual nationals but its own citizens, is deeply disappointing to put it mildly. Dealing specifically with dual nationals, we are absolutely clear that Iran’s behaviour is beyond unacceptable. The treatment of our dual nationals, including Nazanin, is unlawful and unacceptable and it must end. Be in no doubt, this matter remains a top priority for the UK Government. We will continue to lobby at all levels for Nazanin’s unconditional release so that she can return to her patient, long-suffering family in the UK”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe continues to raise concerns over her mental health, and reports emerging today suggest that this may be exacerbated by solitary confinement and being deprived of medicine. Nazanin is awaiting the outcome of her appeal to an Iranian health commission, in which she is seeking release from jail on the grounds of ill health. Can the Minister confirm when the FCO expects the judgment and what exact support is being offered in relation to the appeal?

I thank the noble Lord for his questions and for the consistent support that has been offered on this important issue. It is difficult to predict the specific date on which we will hear the next update on this matter. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we are offering full assistance to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family. I met Richard Ratcliffe when I was at the UN recently and reassured him again of our full support. As I said in the Statement, we are continuing to raise this bilaterally and internationally, to ensure that we get consistent support. Unfortunately, Nazanin’s case is different because the Iranians refuse to recognise dual nationality and regard her as simply Iranian.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is indeed in a desperate situation. As the Minister mentioned, it is expected that her daughter is about to come home, but her exit has not yet been approved. Can he update us as to what the Government are doing? Of course, Gabriella is not a dual national but a British citizen—but obviously, her departure leaves Nazanin in an even more vulnerable position. She had a medical assessment today, as was just mentioned. Can the noble Lord tell us whether she was seen by an independent doctor? Above all, how is the UK working with other countries to try to end this pattern of hostage taking in Iran—a country that we are actually trying to support as the Americans have pulled out of the nuclear deal? In particular, do the Government regard Nazanin and the others who are being held as hostages under the terms of the UN convention on hostages?

First, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and I very much share the sentiments she expressed. She raised the important issue of the return of Gabriella. I am sure that she will understand that I am not going to go into specific details, but I assure her that we are working directly with the family to ensure that Gabriella can come back to the UK at the earliest opportunity. We will continue to work directly in support of that. On her other questions, of course we are working with other countries. The recent release of the dual British-Australian national was very welcome and we will continue to ensure that we share information in this respect.

The noble Baroness rightly raised the issue of the JCPOA. We are also making it very clear to the Iranians that the British Government, along with our colleagues in Europe, are absolutely committed to keeping the JCPOA alive. I assure her that, in our bilateral exchanges with the Iranian Government, this point is reiterated time and again. The continuing taking of hostages, as we have seen, and the holding of detainees in Iran is not helpful to the situation; it works against Iran and against the Iranian people. I assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to ensure that in every case, not all of which receive the publicity that this case has, we will continue to work directly with the families to ensure that when we can agree consular access, we gain that, and, where we do not, we continue to raise the issues of those detainees directly, bilaterally and internationally.

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that within this there is some sort of technical disagreement about the concept of dual nationals? In the UN system, the world’s system, the Vienna Convention or whatever, is it possible for a country to say, “We do not recognise the concept of a dual national”? Or is it the position that people recognise that there is such a concept but think it does not apply to them? In the case of Iran, does it not recognise that someone is Anglo-American, or something like that? At the bottom of all this, is there some disagreement about the fact that there is an obligation to accept that there is such a thing as a dual national in international conventions? I am not clear what the answer to that is.

Perhaps I can help. It is very much down to the countries themselves. We in the United Kingdom recognise the basis of dual nationals and react accordingly. However, the Iranians do not recognise it. If someone is Iranian and British, as in the case of Nazanin, they do not recognise her British nationality; they regard her as Iranian and that is why they do not provide us consular access. There is a difference, quite clearly, in how we view dual nationals in this country and how Iran views dual nationals in Iran.

Is it perfectly legitimate for a country to say that it does not recognise the same concept of a dual national that we and many other countries do? Is it perfectly legitimate to say that it does not recognise that?

My Lords, if Gabriella is successfully repatriated to this country, which appears to be desirable, it is pretty clear that that will disproportionately affect the mental health of her mother, who has said very publicly that the visit, once a fortnight, is what keeps her going. I think any mother or father would still wish their child to return to the UK under those circumstances, but I wonder whether we could make a significant offer of immediate mental health support for her mother if she were repatriated to this country. Indeed, I wonder whether somebody, either from this House or a very distinguished nurse or psychiatrist with experience and a mental health background—noble Lords will know that I have 40 years of such experience—would be willing to support the mother in her return if that would help Iran in any way in considering repatriating her on mental health grounds. I am sure that many people in this House would be willing to support such a venture: I know I would, and I know of at least one psychiatrist who would as well.

On the return of Gabriella, speaking as a parent I know that the hardest choice that a parent has to make is sometimes separation. That applies to any parent, father or mother, if they need to make a sacrifice for their child. I am sure that that sentiment is very relevant to anyone who has experienced parenthood: their first thought would be for their child. I cannot speak for either Richard or Nazanin, but having met Richard, I know where he stands on these issues.

On the other point, I very much welcome the noble Baroness’s suggestion. We seek the return of Nazanin at the earliest opportunity and she will be afforded every support when she returns to the UK. The sad reality is, however, that this issue does not hold with the Iranians. They are preventing a mother being reunited with her daughter and a family reuniting altogether. That is why we implore the Iranian authorities, and we will continue to do so, leaving no stone unturned, to ensure that we eventually see the safe return of Nazanin Radcliffe to her family here in the United Kingdom.

May I press the Minister further? He did not answer my question on whether the Government regard Nazanin and others being held in Iran as hostages under the terms of the UN hostages convention.

I know that she has the status of a detainee. I cannot say anything more specifically because I do not want to speak inappropriately and I want to ensure that I get the right answer to the noble Baroness, so I will write to her specifically on that issue.

House adjourned at 9.02 pm.