Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe is free after six years in an Iranian prison.
She was accused of spurious crimes, put through staged trials and incarcerated. In 2017, Boris Johnson erroneously told Parliament she was teaching journalists in Iran. She was, in fact, visiting her parents with her young daughter. Johnson’s stupid mistake brought her more punishment and grief.
Successive Foreign Secretaries prevaricated and tried to avoid playing a £400m debt Britain has owed Iran since the seventies when the then leader, the Shah, paid for 1,500 British-made tanks and armoured recovery vessels (he only received 185).
Our Government finally paid up and Iran let Zaghari-Ratcliffe go. Miraculously, she’s emerged not broken but livid and indignant. I find her spirit awesome. But this story is not over.
When she and the businessman Anoosheh Ashoori were released, Morad Tahbaz, an animal conservationist, who’s been held for four years, was expecting to be freed too. The Tahbaz family were told by the Foreign Office that he would be on the plane to London. It didn’t happen. They took Morad out of the dreadful Evin jail and re-imprisoned him 48 hours later. His wife Vida is under house arrest.
Imagine their psychological state. Britain has no leverage now. Their family here did not agitate in public. They were advised by officials that speaking to the media would jeopardise backroom negotiations. Murad is a trinational – Iranian-British and American. That he was so casually bypassed by our negotiators is an outrage.
The British government is guilty of prolonging the suffering of all three. But it’s time to turn on the ruthless and arrogant Iranian regime, which has no respect for human life or rights.
Forty-four years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the Shah – an authoritarian, secular monarch – and turned Iran into an Islamic republic. It was, writes Ladan Boroumand, cofounder of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights, conceived as a “theologico-political project to cure what he saw as the corruption of Westernized Muslim societies”.
Iranians, whose identity was a complex amalgam of Persian and Islamic beliefs and customs, who had absorbed Western ideas and modernity, were forced to become “proper” and “pure” Muslims, as defined by the bearded men in power. The republic has used oil money to export this ideology around the world and arm Shia Islamist groups.
Within Iran, sections of the population have never accepted the tyrannical rulers and their injunctions which aim to totally control private lives and the public domain. Disaffection, writes Boroumand, is growing. In 2000, an official survey found that 75 per cent of all Iranians and 86 per cent of students did not say their prayers. By 2009, half the country’s mosques had become inactive.
Remember this, Priti Patel
Freethinking Iranian women get fined, imprisoned, flogged and even executed for claiming their dignity and rights. Today, many, including elderly women, are defying the strict dress codes. Way back in 1983, my friend, an Iranian psychotherapist, tried to immolate herself in a street in Tehran to protest against the headscarf.
Amnesty has highlighted the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a feminist lawyer who campaigns against forced veiling. She has been sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes. The legal age of marriage for girls is 13, but fathers can get permission to marry off their girls at a younger age. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the marriages of 31,379 girls aged between 10 and 14 were registered.
You can be jailed, whipped or executed for apostasy, being gay, adultery, taking drugs or “disrupting public order”, meaning taking part in demonstrations. (Remember this, Priti Patel, as you try to ban legitimate protests.) By November 2021, Iran had executed at least 254 citizens.
This is happening in one of the oldest and once most sophisticated civilisations. I am a Shia Muslim. I loathe the rulers of this republic as much as I loathe the Sunni dictators in Saudi Arabia.
The Tahbouzs are caught up in a terrible geopolitical drama. The UK and US must get them freed. But never forget who has been torturing and oppressing the couple and countless other Iranians, too.
Meet my new, unlikely hero, Julian Richer, founder of Richer Sounds, the UK’s largest hi-fi retailer. In my socialist tribe, big businesspeople are considered enemies of the people. Many indeed are, but some are radical redistributors.
Richer doesn’t want to get any richer. Fifteen per cent of the profits from his company goes to charities. In May 2019, he transferred the majority of his shares to a trust set up for employees. Workers also received £1,000 for every year of work, a thank you bonus from the boss’s own pile. Sunak et al in the Sunday Times Rich List must think he is an alien being.
Richer has also set up TaxWatch with Richard Brookes, author of The Great Tax Robbery. Unlike the fanatically neo-liberal Taxpayers’ Alliance, TaxWatch exposes tax fraud, tax avoidance, scams and tricks used by loaded Brits. Fifty billion pounds of money owed to the state is never paid. Such capitalists with heart and consciences are worth their weight in gold.
A conversation I had this week
Lordy Lord. Oh, what a night. A fellow Ugandan Asian, a decent chap, invited me to an eventful dinner at the House of Lords hosted by a Tory Peer, a Muslim who’s had a colourful private life.
At one table was the MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, dressed like a cross between a Raj Memsahib and a judge on The Apprentice. Her husband Charlie, who previously represented Dover, was jailed for sexual assaults on two women. The couple separated, but she is backing his appeal. Worse, she regularly and horribly demonises migrants on boats. All around us, brown invitees were genuflecting to her and the host. I was mortified and a little ashamed.
I pushed back my chair more noisily than is probably allowed in this House and left. Earlier the Peer had tried to flatter me: “What I like about Yasmin is that she speaks without fear or favour.” Indeed she does. Hope he reads this.
Source » inews