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Iran: British-Iranian Prisoners

Volume 812: debated on Monday 7 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many British Iranian dual nationals are being held in Iran; and what action they are taking to get any such prisoners released.

My Lords, it is unacceptable and unjustifiable that Iran continues with its arbitrary detention of dual British nationals. The Prime Minister has raised the cases of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals with President Rouhani and the Foreign Secretary has raised them with Foreign Minister Zarif. We continue to seek their release and return to the UK. We do not detail the number of British nationals detained when the low numbers involved may lead to individuals being identifiable.

The Minister will be aware that Gabriella, daughter of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has her seventh birthday this week—the sixth without her mother. I assume that the UK Government still regard Nazanin as a hostage, and that the UK will support the Canadian declaration against arbitrary detention at the G7 meeting this week. What has happened to the promise that the UK will pay the money owed to Iran? Is Nazanin still under diplomatic protection, and will the British embassy in Tehran try to attend her trial as well as that of other dual nationals?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point, in one or two cases we have received information for added diplomatic protection and we are looking at that issue. The noble Lord is right about the situation the Ratcliffe family continues to face and we are making that case consistently. There are, at least, some small glimmers: Nazanin remains out of detention and her ankle tag has been removed. On the long-standing debt, we continue to explore options to resolve this case, but I do not want to go into details here, and nor do we attach the two issues specifically.

My Lords, this brutal regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps kidnaps and imprisons British citizens, has an appalling record on human rights and exports terror and extremism across the Middle East, including providing thousands of rockets for Hamas to rain down on Israeli citizens. Will the Government use this week’s G7 to make the case for much tougher sanctions against the regime’s leadership? Will the UK proscribe the IRGC, as the US did in 2020 and which the Biden Administration have maintained?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we will continue to work very constructively with our key partners to ensure that the obligations Iran has under the JCPOA are fully met and upheld. On future sanctions, the noble Lord will of course be aware that I will not speculate on what we may or may not do in the future.

My Lords, the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and others held by the Iranian authorities is truly terrible. We can only imagine how ghastly it must be serving time in one of their prisons or under house arrest; as has already been said, it is a very repressive regime. Can the Minister therefore confirm that, as the negotiations proceed in Geneva on the JCPOA, they will deal with the nuclear issue and also the export of terrorism and the seizing of hostages—both of which were omitted under the original JCPOA arrangements?

My noble friend is right to highlight the limitations of the JCPOA—specifically on arms, for example, ballistic missiles are not included. As I said earlier, we continue to work with partners in asking Iran to uphold its obligations. I assure my noble friend that we are working at the highest level, including through the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, to ensure the early release of all dual nationals under detention and their return to the UK.

My Lords, many of the World Service Persian staff are dual nationals who live in the UK but cannot visit elderly parents or attend family funerals in Iran for fear of arrest and imprisonment. The aim of this intimidation appears to be to coerce them to leave the BBC, and family members in Iran are often targeted too. What practical steps, in addition to the support I know the noble Lord has expressed before, are the Government able to take to step up the efforts to end this harassment?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise the issue of journalists. As she will be aware, media freedom remains a key priority for Her Majesty’s Government. We are working with key partners, most notably Canada, on this important issue and on the arbitrary detention of journalists in Iran.

My Lords, last month the Foreign Secretary stated that the treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe “amounts to torture”. Previously, Amnesty International has suggested that another dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, has been subjected to similar treatment. Will the Minister confirm what recent steps the Foreign Office has taken to protect imprisoned dual nationals in Iran from such torture?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that, as I have already said, we are taking direct steps through bilateral engagement with the Iranian Government, and that, as we receive specific requests from the families of those who are detained, we seek to process those in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at the G7 meeting will the Prime Minister raise with President Biden the necessity of getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British and American hostages home from Iran? The noble Lord also mentioned attending court cases, which, of course, other European countries do, as the Minister will know. Will our embassy officials attend the revolutionary court next week for the case of the most recent British detainee?

My Lords, on the latter point, we continue making the case to attend any hearings that we can. Of course, those are subject to the approval of the Iranian authorities. On the first point, we raise all opportunities, working with our key partners, including the US, on the early release of all hostages held in Iran.

My Lords, six weeks ago, James Cleverly said that we were co-operating with international partners, including the US and the E3, on a whole range of issues regarding Iran. He referred to the renewed mandate of the UN special rapporteur, the March Human Rights Council and joining the Canadian initiative against arbitrary detention, which the Minister mentioned. What further action, in concert with our allies, has the United Kingdom taken over the past six weeks to ensure the return of Nazanin and the release of the other British detainees?

My Lords, we are working on specific measures on a raft of issues with our allies, as my right honourable friend Minister Cleverly indicated, including, without my going into the details of each case, engagement directly with the Iranians on the early release of all those currently held in Iran, as I have said already.

My Lords, can the Minister study this morning’s statement by openDemocracy, which includes an appeal by a survivor of the 1988 mass executions of Iran’s political prisoners, and support his call for an international commission of inquiry, requested in a letter in May to Michelle Bachelet by more than 150 UN officials, lawyers and human rights activists? Also, given the alleged role of Ebrahim Raisi in those events and in subsequent executions and impunity, and given his statement that amputation of arms and limbs is a “divine punishment” and that divine punishments are

“a source of pride for us”,

how do the Government view the prospect of his election as Iran’s next President?

My Lords, I have not seen the statement, so I will write to the noble Lord on the specifics of his question. I assure him that we continue to make the case through multilateral engagement as well as directly with Iran about the well-being and, ultimately, the early release of all hostages.

My Lords, having watched this cruel saga play out over the years, it becomes obvious that the Revolutionary Guard are playing mind games with a British citizen who is being used as a political pawn. This matter must be divorced from any procedural or historical debt that may or may not have been incurred by different Governments. If the UK accepts the debt liability in principle, surely the matter can now be settled amicably without either side losing face, and the torture of a mother and her family can be brought to an end.

My Lords, as I have already said, on the issue of the debt, we continue to explore options to resolve this case at the earliest opportunity, but that is all that I can say at this point.

My Lords, do the Government have a coherent policy towards dual nationals? Do we know how many dual nationals there are with a British nationality, and which other countries it is most commonly shared with? Do the Government have a clear policy towards the right of protection that we offer when they are back in their other countries of nationality? Do we intend allowing them to vote both in Britain and in their other country of nationality, regardless of where they are resident—for example, under the forthcoming EI Bill? Will the Government issue a White Paper on this?

My Lords, I think that I followed the train of the noble Lord’s question. He will be aware that Iran does not recognise dual nationalities. We are aware of all dual nationals, including those who hold more than two nationalities. As I said earlier, we do not go into the numbers, to protect those who are being held.

Sitting suspended.