The government has repeatedly missed opportunities to help bring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe home
Some politicians spend a long time choosing a campaign that they are going to focus on. When I got a call from my office in 2016 saying that one of my constituents had been arrested for a crime she didn’t commit while on holiday in Iran, I knew that I would not have the luxury of that choice.
That constituent was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and I have spent much of the last five years in Parliament fighting for her freedom alongside her devoted husband Richard Ratcliffe.
In that time, Nazanin has languished in an Iranian jail and been tortured, denied medical treatment and, for the last year or so, kept under house arrest in Tehran, ankle tagged and unable to leave her house let alone Iran. Perhaps worst of all, she has been separated from her daughter Gabriella, who is now growing up in my constituency without her mother.
In 2019, Richard Ratcliffe camped outside the Iranian embassy in London for 15 days without food, in solidarity with his wife who was doing the same inside Evin Prison in Iran. Two years later, Richard felt the need to go on hunger strike once again, this time outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
It’s clear that the government’s current approach is not working, Richard’s hunger strike must be a wake-up call
The reason that Richard protested on the doorstep of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister without food for three weeks is because he feels that they have not done enough to secure Nazanin’s release. Responsibility for her plight of course lies with Iran, but the fact of the matter is that the UK government has repeatedly missed opportunities to take action that would have helped to bring Nazanin home.
Despite repeated promises to “leave no stone unturned”, the UK government has still not resolved the £400 million debt that it owes to Iran over an historic arms deal. We know that this "IMS debt" is the blockage in Nazanin’s case, not least because she has been told so by the Iranian officials who have imprisoned her. The courts have ruled that this debt is owed, and Ministers have accepted it, yet this debt goes unresolved and my constituent continues to pay the price.
As Richard has repeatedly pointed out, the UK government has also done very little to challenge Iran’s hostage taking and prevent it. The perpetrators of this have gone unpunished and Ministers won’t acknowledge that Nazanin is being held as a hostage. If they can’t even recognise that there is a problem, how are we ever going to go about tackling it?
During this campaign, I have raised eight Urgent Questions in the House of Commons, asked hundreds of Written Parliamentary Questions and written dozens of letters to Minsters. I’ve dealt with five Foreign Secretaries and the same number of Ministers for the Middle East. Yet Nazanin remains stuck in Iran, facing yet more false charges, a two-year travel ban and possible a return to jail. Her family continue to suffer without her, despite their best efforts to campaign for her return to the UK.
It’s clear that the government’s current approach is not working, Richard’s hunger strike must be a wake-up call that it’s time for a change. I hope the Prime Minister will be watching the debate I have secured on Nazanin’s case in Parliament today and listening to the views of the public who have been furiously lobbying their MPs over the last few days. It’s time for him and his government to take notice and take action to bring Nazanin home.
Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.
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