One of the least controversial lines in the was that “Britain has a long history of protecting human rights at home and standing up for those values abroad”. Theresa May stood for election on that manifesto, as did her cabinet colleagues.
This may come as a surprise to , who was detained upon her arrival at Iran’s Khomeini airport back in April this year. She was simply going on holiday, . For that, she has been treated as a criminal.
Now facing a five-year jail sentence, following charges brought by a secretive Iranian court, her welfare is under dire threat. Those campaigning for her swift release have been dealt a huge blow, but we remain undeterred in fighting for her safe return to Britain.
Long periods of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention have taken place in solitary confinement in the high-security wing of the notorious Kerman and Evin prisons. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in serious consequences for her physical condition. She has become increasingly frail and unable to walk. By preventing regular contact with family and legal representation, those holding her in Kerman have met the UN criteria for torture, and in doing so are breaching internationally accepted means of detention.
This horrific contempt for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s human rights is compounded by the treatment of Gabriella. At just two years old, she was put through the trauma of being forcefully separated from her mother and has since had her passport confiscated.
In June we celebrated Gabriella’s third birthday outside the Iranian embassy, leaving a symbolic card and a balloon for Gabriella on their doorstep. She faces the prospect of being separated from her parents until she reaches at least seven years of age. This is no way for a child to grow up.
Given that two British citizens, Nazanin and Gabriella, are being held captive in a foreign land, one would assume that the UK government is acting with urgency. It is not.
The Foreign Office has provided little in the way of tangible action, mostly offering vague comments suggesting they are doing “everything possible”.
Tobias Ellwood, the Middle East minister, offers verbal reassurances, and the previous foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, told the House he had “raised the case a number of times, and (…) subsequently followed that up with a letter”. It is hardly the kind of action this case requires. It is not good enough.
In light of the recent resumption of consular relations between Britain and , it is surely fair to expect that the government will make full use of those services. They could begin by securing consular rights for all British citizens to stop this happening to innocent families in the future. But the specific circumstances surrounding Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prosecution requires immediate clarification.
The government must call for regular consular access to Zaghari-Ratcliffe to check on her welfare. It is not enough for Iran to claim she is Iranian when they are clearly holding her as a bargaining chip in a developing relationship with Britain. Upgrading relations and encouraging more trade and visits without solving this issue of consular access and how dual nationals are used by Iran, clearly risks more families suffering Nazanin’s fate. Our government must ultimately call for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s immediate release, or at the very least to face charges of an internationally recognisable criminal offence, and the ability to defend herself in fair proceedings.
Hundreds of thousands of people have joined the call for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s swift release, and from debates in the Commons it is clear that there is a coalition of politicians willing to support the government in taking action to redress cases such as hers. A crowded timetable means it can be difficult to give specific cases the parliamentary platform they deserve, but following her sentencing, the severity of her situation means we will continue to push for her plight to be heard.
An appeal beckons, but given the secretive manner in which the Iranian judiciary conducts its affairs, any real hope for Zaghari-Ratcliffe lies in the British government deciding to stand up for one of its citizens. By remaining dormant in the face of this abuse of individual liberty, the government is failing to meet the standards that it regularly advocates to the international community at large.