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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 28 April 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to reports of the sentencing of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran.

Iran’s decision to sentence Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on further charges is totally inhumane and wholly unjustified. Her Majesty’s Government remain committed to doing all we can to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return home. Iran has deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal. We continue to call on Iran in the strongest possible terms to end her suffering and allow her to return home to be reunited with her daughter Gabriella and husband Richard.

My Lords, our thoughts must first go to Nazanin, her daughter, her husband and the rest of the family. To be given a further one-year sentence on a trumped-up charge of promoting propaganda against the system and to be found guilty after a sham trial is truly appalling news.

Yesterday the Minister, James Cleverly, said that we are co-operating

“with our international partners on a whole range of issues with regard to Iran, including the United States of America and the E3”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/4/21; col. 239.]

Can the Minister tell us what further actions the United Kingdom will consider with our allies to get Nazanin home to the United Kingdom and the other dual nationals in detention released?

The noble Lord is right: our thoughts first and foremost go out to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family for this latest development. We have been very clear that Iran’s decision is totally inhumane and wholly unjustified. He is right that my right honourable friend the Minister, James Cleverly, yesterday outlined some of the action we are taking to hold Iran to account for its poor human rights record—for instance, strongly supporting the renewal mandate of the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran at the Human Rights Council in March this year and joining the Canadian initiative against arbitrary detention in February. However, this is on Iran: it can do the right thing and return Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals home to be reunited with their families.

My Lords, I too express my sympathy to Nazanin and her family. Two more European dual nationals are being tried today—one German, one British. The German authorities have said that they will seek to attend the mock trial in the revolutionary courts. Is the United Kingdom doing the same for our citizen? What came across yesterday in the Commons was words but not actions.

I cannot speak for the actions of other Governments and the activity they are undertaking. We have requested access to the hearings, as we have for previous hearings, but Iran routinely denies us access to them because it does not recognise Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a dual national. We will continue to seek to attend any future hearings. We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison; she should be returned to the United Kingdom to be reunited with her family.

My Lords, this is a very difficult case, but I wonder about our approach to it. The Minister will recall the case of the British hostages in Lebanon held by groups connected to the Iranians. As it happens, I dealt with those cases, both in London and later in Damascus. Our strategy at that time was to refuse to negotiate and to keep the public profile down so as not to add to the perceived value of the hostages. That approach eventually worked. I realise that the conditions are not the same, but will the Minister now review the present case in light of this previous experience?

The noble Lord speaks with authority as a former ambassador to Syria. We do not accept dual British nationals being used as diplomatic leverage. Iran is responsible for putting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals, such as Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz, through this intolerable ordeal, and it remains on Iran to release them to allow them to be reunited with their families. We have called on the Iranian Government to release all those dual nationals who have been arbitrarily detained, and we remain committed to ensuring that we do what we can to secure their release.

My Lords, the ordeals of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe go from bad to worse. These Benches assure her and her family of our continued prayers. As many have made clear, including in the other place powerfully yesterday, she is caught up in political machinations not of her own making. As well as urging Her Majesty’s Government to do everything possible to deal with outstanding issues which may be being used to justify her continued punishment, does the Minister think that the engagement of religious groups here—Muslim and Christian—might offer any way forward, or would that be counterproductive?

I am sure that the prayers of many people are with those of the right reverend Prelate about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her situation. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear that this is a totally inhumane and wholly unjustified decision. We are in contact with a range of international partners who share our deep concerns about the ongoing detention of British dual nationals, religious groups and others, but it remains in Iran’s gift to do the right thing and allow them to come home and be reunited with their families.

My Lords, over five years the Government have not secured the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. This can be described only as a diplomatic failure, leading to yet another jail sentence by a cruel and inhumane Iranian judicial system. Can the House be given a clear and complete explanation of why the Government have not found a way of paying off the UK’s debt for undelivered military equipment to Iran, which could well secure the release of this innocent victim?

My Lords, it is unhelpful to connect wider bilateral issues with the arbitrary detention of people in Iran. It remains in Iran’s gift to do the right thing and return them home. The whole of Her Majesty’s Government, from the Prime Minister down, have been engaged on this. The Prime Minister has raised this directly with President Rouhani, most recently on 10 March, and the Foreign Secretary last did so with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, on 3 April. The action we have taken so far, such as granting diplomatic status to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has helped in previous stages, but we continue to do all we can to try to secure her return home to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the people responsible for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s incarceration are clearly this brutal dictatorship, which treats women appallingly, kidnaps innocent British citizens, persecutes gay people, executes dissidents, supports terrorists across the Middle East, and threatens to wipe Israel—the region’s only democracy—off the planet. It is clearly impossible to trust this brutal and corrupt regime. We must do everything possible to prevent it developing nuclear weapons. Western democracies should impose much tougher sanctions on the leadership, and the revolutionary guard which kidnapped this poor woman should be proscribed.

My Lords, we have long been clear about our concerns over Iran’s continued destabilising activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support to a number of militant and proscribed groups. The noble Lord raised points about nuclear; the UK remains committed to making the Iran nuclear deal a success, and Iran must stop all its nuclear activity which breaches the terms of the JCPOA and come back into compliance. On sanctions, we take a robust stance against Iranian human rights violations, and we have already sanctioned 82 individuals and one entity.

My Lords, is it not the harsh truth that we have been on the back foot since the clumsy and inexcusable intervention by the Prime Minister? There is a logjam here, and it has to be broken if we are to preserve the health of the prisoners. If that means paying the disputed money, so be it.

My Lords, the UK Government from the Prime Minister down are committed to doing everything we can for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, and we are determined to see her reunited with her family in the UK. We raise her case, and those of other British dual nationals, with the Iranian Government at every opportunity, and continue to call for their immediate and permanent release. As I have said, we do not think it helpful to conflate this with other bilateral issues.

My Lords, following on from the Minister’s answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, can he tell me why the German Government are apparently being treated differently—better treated, in terms of access to trials for dual nationals—than the UK Government?

As I have said, I cannot speak for the experience of the German Government; I can only be clear that at every opportunity we press for access to the judicial hearings, but the Iranian Government do not grant us that access, because they do not recognise Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a dual national.

My Lords, is there not a real risk here that we absolve the Iranian regime of their full responsibility for this fiasco? Does not the appalling and obvious way in which Iran is manipulating its judicial system to torment Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and extort money from the British Government underline the fact that the word of this terror-exporting regime simply cannot be trusted on a whole host of other matters, including, of course, their misuse of nuclear power?

The noble Lord is right: the responsibility for this lies squarely with the Iranian Government. It is on them. They could do the right thing and release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and allow her to come home and be reunited with her family. We continue to call on Iran in the strongest possible terms to end her suffering and allow her to return home.

Sitting suspended.