Efforts to secure the release of a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran have “hit a wall”, according to her husband.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has now been in jail for two years on charges of spying. It is nearly six months since UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson visited Iran to argue her case, raising hopes that she might be released by Christmas.
The impasse raises questions about the UK’s relations with Iran, and about the tactics used by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to protect British nationals abroad.
The announcement this week that another British-Iranian national had been arrested in Iran also has highlighted the issue. Abbas Edalat, a computer science and mathematics professor at London’s Imperial College, had travelled to Iran for an academic workshop.
In a statement the FCO said: “We are urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities following reports of the arrest of a British-Iranian dual national.”
Around half a dozen prominent dual nationals are currently in jail in Iran. Their arrest is seen as part of a pattern by hardliners to weaken pro-reform groups.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s continued detention is a personal embarrassment to Mr Johnson, who appeared to jeopardise her position last November when he erroneously told a select committee of MPs that she had been “teaching people journalism” before her arrest.
Both the UK government and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have said that she is not a journalism teacher, and was instead on a visit to see family in Iran. Mr Johnson himself subsequently apologised for his remarks, and organised the visit to Iran to show his concern for the case.
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s British husband, said that he was “utterly unpersuaded” by the FCO’s arguments that quiet diplomacy is the way to secure her release. “We will keep campaigning,” he said on Wednesday. “My job is to stop Nazanin’s imprisonment becoming normalised.”
Mr Ratcliffe said that, “it felt like there was momentum in January”, following Mr Johnson’s visit to Iran. “Then we hit a wall . . . No one’s saying no, but nothing is moving.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been eligible for parole since December, having served one-third of her five-year sentence. Mr Ratcliffe pointed to another “missed opportunity” at Easter, when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was one of a few prisoners on her ward not to be temporarily released.
Mr Ratcliffe has linked his wife’s case to the UK’s outstanding debt of £400m to Iran, for a past tank deal. The UK has said it cannot pay the money because of EU sanctions against Iran’s Ministry of Defence.
Iranian analysts have suggested that opponents of centrist president Hassan Rouhani may also be using the case to put pressure on his government and undermine his foreign policy.
Iran’s foreign ministry has said that the arrest of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a judicial issue in which the government of Hassan Rouhani and his foreign ministry cannot intervene. In the last official statement from Tehran, a foreign ministry spokesman rejected what he described as “baseless” allegations that linked the case to other disputes between the two countries.
“She has been convicted in an Iranian court and is serving her jail sentence,” said Bahram Ghasemi earlier this month. “She is a dual national, which is not recognised under Iran’s law.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who has a young daughter, receives regular visits in jail from her family. However, her husband has been denied a visa to enter Iran since her arrest. Her health has been frail at times; Mr Ratcliffe said she was now taking “pretty strong medication”.
The FCO said it would not be “providing a running commentary on every twist and turn” in the case.
Source » ft