Skip to main content

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that following the change in Foreign Secretary the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will continue to be prioritised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned for all our dual nationality detainees in Iran, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and are doing everything we can for them, including trying to secure access. We regularly raise all these cases at the highest levels within the Iranian Government and we will continue to do so in a way that we judge is in their best interests. The Foreign Secretary is keen to meet the Ratcliffe family and hopes to do so shortly.

I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks. As an Iranian-born Member of your Lordships’ House, I declare a personal interest in this Question. As the Government are aware, all the UN special rapporteurs on human rights have already condemned Iran’s action and asked for the end of the arbitrary detention of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has committed no crime other than wanting to go to see her parents—something that I cannot do because I would end up there. I do not know whether the Government could help me at that point. Would this critical time, when Iran needs all the help it can get from all its allies, perhaps be a good time for the Government to encourage the Iranian Government to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as an act of good will and allow her to come back to continue her life in the UK?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question and pay tribute to her particularly detailed knowledge of both Iran and the circumstances of this issue. As she is probably aware, the technical difficulty is that Iranians do not recognise the UK as having any right of access, on the basis that they do not consider dual nationality detainees to be British nationals. Anyone holding Iranian citizenship is considered to be only Iranian, and under international law Iran is not obliged to grant consular access for dual nationals. We are pursuing every avenue that we can in relation to all the dual nationality detainees, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and are doing so in the best way possible. We raise all our cases at every level and every opportunity. The Prime Minister raised all our consular cases in a telephone call with President Rouhani on 13 May. Most recently, on 6 July, the Minister for the Middle East raised our cases in a meeting with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Araghchi. This is a very difficult situation for all our dual nationality detainees. We do the best we can to seek information and ensure that they have access to members of their family—in the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her parents in Iran—and that their welfare is addressed. I am sure that the noble Baroness’s plea will not be lost.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House whether there is a balance to be struck between doing everything possible behind the scenes to assist Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, as the Government are indeed doing, and refraining from any public comment that may inadvertently be counterproductive?

I thank my noble friend for his particularly shrewd and perceptive observation. These are very difficult cases. For example, we know of other families of dual nationality detainees who have explicitly requested the UK Government not to engage publicly in representations and not to discuss their case at the public level. That is why the United Kingdom Government make a judgment on how best to try to continue communication with Iran and with the Iranian Government. I am pleased to say that in this case, for example, our ambassador in Tehran was able to speak with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe by telephone on both 20 May and 15 July this year. That is unusual but it was a very welcome development.

My Lords, will the new Foreign Secretary agree to meet Nazanin’s family immediately, given the greater danger that his predecessor placed her in? Will he grant Nazanin the diplomatic protection to which she is legally entitled—a decision that was left on the previous Foreign Secretary’s desk when he resigned?

As I indicated, last week, the Foreign Secretary told the Ratcliffe family that he is keen to meet them, and he hopes to do that shortly. We have to leave that with the Ratcliffe family and the Foreign Secretary. On the issue of diplomatic protection, Redress, on behalf of Mr Ratcliffe, formally requested a decision on a claim for diplomatic protection in May this year. The Foreign Secretary will be provided with all the relevant information and advice as a matter of urgency, and I understand that he is keen to take a decision as soon as possible.

Does the Minister agree that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was ill served by the previous Foreign Secretary not reading his briefs properly and therefore worsening her position in the courts? I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will improve on that performance. Was the Minister as puzzled as I was last night when, while watching “Channel 4 News”, I saw the ex-Foreign Secretary pull up at Carlton Gardens, in what appeared to be a public car, and use the facilities that are there for the Foreign Secretary and not for ex-Foreign Secretaries?

I was so busy last night preparing for my marathon event at the Dispatch Box today that I was not watching “Channel 4 News” last night: I was bent over my desk trying to master my briefs.

Everyone wants to see progress made with our dual nationality detainees. No one is pretending that this is an easy situation—it is very far from it. There is welcome progress because of the approach that the UK Government have been adopting, as evidenced by the degree of contact that is now possible: for example, I understand that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is able to phone her husband a couple of times a week and see her daughter and, as I said, her parents. At the end of the day, Iran is a sovereign country and it has an independent court system. We simply do our best to ensure that the detainees are being properly treated in compliance with international obligations on Iran. We certainly seek and would welcome more specific information about the charges against the detainees where that is within the criminal milieu of Iran. The United Kingdom Government are doing their very best to keep channels of communication open to ensure that progress is made. The point made by my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones is pertinent.