Tulip Siddiq MP has demanded answers from the UK government over ministerial efforts to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe while asserting that “at the heart of this tragic case is the Prime Minister’s dismal failure”.
Following news this week of Iran’s decision to sentence her constituent to another year in prison on further charges, the shadow minister and Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn asked an urgent question in parliament this afternoon.
James Cleverly, the minister for the Middle East and North Africa, insisted during his statement to MPs in the Commons today that “Iran is the one responsible for putting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe through this cruel and inhumane ordeal”.
Siddiq said: “If the Prime Minister is watching now, I would like to ask him what efforts has he put into trying to release Nazanin in the first place? Because from where I’m standing, I’ve seen no evidence on the part of the Prime Minister.”
She added: “At the heart of this tragic case is the Prime Minister’s dismal failure to release my constituent and to stand up for her – and his devastating blunder in 2017 when he was Foreign Secretary when he exposed his complete ignorance of this tragic case.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 when she and her young daughter, Gabriella, were about to return to the UK from Iran. She has spent five years in prison since then, including a significant period of time in solitary confinement.
Boris Johnson, serving at the time as Foreign Secretary, criticised the conviction of Zaghari-Ratcliffe while appearing before a parliamentary committee in 2017 but added that she was “simply teaching people journalism”.
Three days after his statement, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned before an unscheduled court hearing where Johnson’s comments were cited as evidence that the dual national was engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.
“The Prime Minister did not even arrange for UK officials to attend Nazanin’s recent court hearing, which might have ensured she got a free and fair trial,” the north London Labour MP added this afternoon.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe completed her sentence under house arrest due to the Covid crisis in March. But an Iranian court has now sentenced the dual national to a new one-year prison term and banned her from leaving the country for a further year.
“He [Johnson] still hasn’t got his government to pay the £400m debt that we as a country owe Iran,” Siddiq told MPs. “We cannot deny the fact that Nazanin was handed a fresh new sentence a week after the IMS [International Military Services] debt court hearing was delayed.”
The UK is thought to owe as much as £400m to Iran over the non-delivery of tanks in 1979, when the shipment was stopped following the revolution. The Hague ruled in 2001 that the UK government did owe the money to Iran.
Siddiq asked the minister this afternoon what steps the government is taking to ensure that the debt is being paid, and to acknowledge that her constituent is being held hostage by Iran and is a victim of torture.
Cleverly told parliament that the “anger and frustration” from Siddiq was “misdirected” because Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British dual nationals held in arbitrary detention “are being held by Iran”. “It is on them,” he added.
Commenting on the case earlier today, Tory MP and chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat told Sky News that the Iranian government are being “tyrants” and that they are holding the British-Iranian dual national “hostage”.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality and as a result only views Zaghari-Ratcliffe as an Iranian citizen. Cleverly argued that this “has not stopped this government from lobbying at every opportunity” for her return to the UK.
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