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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Forced Confession

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Asia to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“The treatment of Nazanin by the Islamic Republic of Iran has been horrendous. Her ordeal was extended when Iran made it clear that it would not allow her to leave Tehran airport unless she signed a document.

A UK official was present to help facilitate the departure of both Nazanin and Anoosheh Ashoori, and passed on the message from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that she needed to sign a confession. Given the situation Iran put Nazanin in at the airport, she took the decision to sign the document. No UK official forced Nazanin to do so. Iran has a practice of insisting that detainees sign documents before they are released. Nothing about the cruel treatment by Iran of detainees can be described as acceptable, including at the point of release.

We will continue to raise human rights concerns with the Islamic Republic of Iran, including over its detention of foreign nationals. The Government of Iran must end their practice of unfairly detaining British and other foreign nationals. We will continue to work with like-minded international partners to achieve this end.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. It is hugely welcome that Nazanin is now safely at home with her family, where she belongs, but Morad Tahbaz remains detained in Iran and Amanda Milling said in the other place that the Iranian Government failed to honour the commitment to release him from prison on indefinite furlough and that the UK Government

“urge Iranian authorities at every opportunity to release him immediately.”

Can the noble Lord tell us precisely when the Foreign Secretary last raised Morad’s case with her counterpart in Iran and what the FCDO’s strategy is to secure his release?

On the forced confession, I hear what the noble Lord repeated: it is an Iranian practice to insist that detainees sign documents before releasing them and that the UK official did not force Nazanin to do so. However, can he tell us exactly what the Government’s assessment is of how the confession could be used by the Iranian Government against Nazanin in the future, and what the department’s strategy is for dealing with this policy by the Iranian Government in the future more generally?

My Lords, I associate myself with the comments of noble Lord: we all breathed a huge sigh of relief, and rightly so, when Nazanin’s ordeal came to an end. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary engages regularly on this issue. The noble Lord may be aware that she also met Nazanin directly, as did my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. She spoke directly to the Foreign Minister of Iran about this case in advance of Nazanin’s release. I will update the noble Lord specifically on the follow-up contact she has had on the specific issue of Morad Tahbaz. It was very clear in Morad’s case that an undertaking was given, as the noble Lord correctly said, on his release under furlough. That was welcomed as the next step and there has certainly been a reneging on that deal. I add that it is within Iran’s remit to release Morad Tahbaz today if it so chose.

The forced confession is, of course, unfortunately yet another example of the coercive practices deployed by the Iranian Government and organisations working within the Government, and we will raise the issue. It is quite obvious that it was a forced confession and any such actions, including the continued detention of other detainees, are absolutely deplorable.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer. The interview with Nazanin was very moving. One of the most moving parts was her concern about those who had been left behind. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the case of Morad Tahbaz, and we must ensure that we continue to press for his release. I urge the Minister to continue to do that.

Nazanin rightly protested that she had to sign a false confession. Will the United Kingdom Government agree with Redress, which helped very much in her case, that they should now set up an independent external review of FCDO policies on protecting British nationals overseas from torture and ill treatment? The noble Lord will have heard what Nazanin said about the Prime Minister’s words and how damaging they were. Will the noble Lord make a clear apology for those?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second question, I believe the Prime Minister met Nazanin and Richard directly, as I said in my earlier answer, and he has previously expressed regret if his statement in any way impacted on Nazanin’s continued detention.

I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we have indeed received Redress’s most recent correspondence. While we do not recognise all the claims made in the letter, we will respond in due course.

On the issue the noble Baroness raises of British nationals and detainees around the world, I am sure she is aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee has announced an inquiry in this respect, and we will of course co-operate fully with it.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I express my dismay—indeed, anger—at this extraordinarily cruel treatment of Nazanin after agreement had been reached between the two Governments for her release. Was this not a clear breach of the understanding that had been reached between the two Governments? Is this not the second time in this negotiation for the release of dual nationals after the payment of the tank money had been made that the Iranian Government broke their word, as they had promised to release Morad Tahbaz from Evin prison and then he was rearrested after 24 hours? How on earth can the Iranian Government expect people to accept their word in any negotiation over a nuclear agreement that may or may not be reached? Have we not reached the point of disillusionment?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The IMS debt, a subject which several noble Lords have repeatedly raised, was owed by the United Kingdom Government and it was right that it was paid. While the details of the terms remain confidential, it is clear that the proceeds of those funds are primarily assigned specifically and only for humanitarian causes. Equally, I agree with my noble friend that Iran needs to do some really hard thinking because, when agreements are reached, particularly on sensitive issues such as those around the JCPOA—the deal is now ready and on the table— every country comes to a negotiation in good faith and once agreements are reached it is incumbent on every country to uphold them.

My Lords, there is no personal blame attached to the Minister, who is highly respected by all sides of House, but would he, on reflection, agree that the length of custody of the poor, unfortunate Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been lengthened as a result of government action and inaction? I cite first the fact that the Prime Minister when Foreign Secretary misread or misinterpreted the purpose of her visit to Iran, and then the long delay in repaying a loan which everyone agreed was due and owing to Iran at the time. Finally, did the Foreign Office official simply stand idly by at the airport and make no protest or written note of what was happening? Was Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe warned in advance that she would be asked to sign this false confession? It all sounds very unsavoury.

My Lords, I have already answered the final point the noble Lord raises. On the IMS debt, I am sure that he accepts that it was a complex negotiation and it is important that we reached a settlement. That debt has now been honoured on our part and paid. On the broader issue I agree that, irrespective of where you come from on this issue, Nazanin’s detention was wrong, it was flawed, and it had to be addressed. Yes, she was in detention for far too long. She did not deserve any detention, even for a day, and the same applies to those currently detained in Iran, and I again call on the Iranian authorities. It is within their gift to release British nationals who are being detained—and, in the case that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised, a tri-national, so there are also sensitivities with the United States, but we will continue to call for the release of all detainees in Iran.

My Lords, for a long time Ministers at the Dispatch Box were refusing any suggestion that the £400 million should be paid. Why was there so much delay? That delay cost this woman six years of her life.

My Lords, certainly in terms of what I have said we have always said that we would settle the IMS debt. We have now done so and the payment was made in full compliance with our international obligations, international sanctions and global counterterrorism financing. It was in parallel with the release of the nationals, but equally it was a debt. We have never accepted that our nationals be used as diplomatic leverage and we paid the debt because it was owed.

My Lords, anybody who saw the programme last night would have been, as the noble Baroness said, deeply moved by the dignity of this woman—it was amazing. Has the Foreign Secretary, since Nazanin returned to this country, summoned the Iranian ambassador and torn him off a strip and told him just how appalling it is that this forced confession should have been a condition of her leaving the country?

My Lords, I too heard the interview and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. As someone who campaigns on the central issue of human rights, her detention was not just a challenge beyond belief for her personally but obviously for Gabriella and for Richard, and we pay tribute to their work in this respect. On the issue of engagement with the Iranian authorities, we regularly raise issues specific to different cases. Some work we do privately, because that is reflective of the engagement that those who are detained and their families ask of us. Of course, we will continue to implore, particularly on the case that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised, that when Iran comes to and reaches an agreement, it needs to uphold it.

House adjourned at 8.11 pm.