Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Fight for Freedom: Caged Behind Iranian Prison Walls on the Basis of Meaningless Charges

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, once a free British-Iranian woman who led a humble life with her husband and young child in Britain, has spent the last three years of her life caged behind Iranian prison walls. The details of her supposed crime have been kept strictly private and confidential, and thus beyond the reach of the press. However, what is known, as reported by BBC online is that ‘Iranian authorities allege that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was plotting to topple the government in Tehran- but no official charges have been made public.’ Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s treatment by the Iranian prison and judicial system appear to have not met the standards that one would expect in a civilized society. Following her arrest on April 3rd 2016, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was subject to treatment that can be best described as both grossly inhumane and degrading. As reported by BBC online ‘from April to June of 2016, according to Mr Ratcliffe, his wife was subject to “intense interrogations” and kept in solitary confinement.’ At present there are growing and serious concerns regarding Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s physical and mental health, as in the words of her husband, ‘Mr Ratcliffe…she is in a pretty fragile state of mind.’

The British government has been firm and active in responding to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.  In fact, the then ‘Prime Minister Theresa May raised the case with Iran’s President Hassan Hourani’ in early August of 2016. Further, BBC online has reported that the British Government has promised to continue to advocate for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Here, it was reported that ‘The UK foreign office stated that it was “deeply concerned”  by her sentence and said that Ministers would continue to raise the case with Iranian officials.’ Pressing forward to 2019, Britain has strengthened its position on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, as British authorities are now ‘treating the matter as a legal dispute between Britain and Iran.’  As such, in the vie to secure Nazanin’s freedom the British government has accorded ‘Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s with formal diplomatic protection.’ As highlighted by James Landale reporting for BBC online this move is of great symbolic significance in the international law space as not only does it mean that the matter can be subject to assessment under international dispute resolution mechanisms such as ‘requesting inquiries, demanding negotiations and even suing for compensation for an “internationally wrongful act,”’  it also signifies Britain’s acknowledgement of the gross miscarriage of justice that has occurred in this case. This strong and landmark decision by Britain has been characterized by Iran as ‘illegal.’   The reasoning for this as provided via Twitter by ‘Iran’s ambassador to the UK’  was as follows; ‘Governments may only exercise such protection for own nationals. As the UK government is acutely aware, Iran does not recognize dual nationality. Irrespective of UK residency, Ms Zaghari thus remains Iranian.’

Without truth there can be no peace, and thus integral to achieving peace and security is the adoption of candid practices by courts and governments alike. In critiquing the words of the Iranian Ambassador, as noted above, it is necessary to point out that his reasoning appears to be no more than word play. Diplomatic protection was granted by Britain, which as a sovereign nation recognizes dual citizenship. Iran is not separate from the international community, as such the taking of such thoughtless actions may engender a sense of distrust from the greater international community. The implications flowing from this speaks for itself and goes against the very grain of achieving global peace and harmony. To that end, as Britain recognizes dual citizenship, the decision to grant diplomatic protection cannot be challenged on the grounds of illegality. The words of the Iranian Ambassador lack logic and substance as the Ambassador does specifically recognize Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ‘UK residency.’  It then goes against the grain of common sense to firstly recognize her ‘UK residency’ and then to follow it up with a rebuttal which states that ‘Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains Iranian.’ Such reasoning in itself casts doubt upon the real motivations driving Iranian decisions making,

The legal avenues for appeal in Iran have been exhausted by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in her fight for freedom. In April of  2017 the British-Iranian dual national ‘lost her final appeal to the Iranian Supreme Court.’  She has however at all times ‘maintained her innocence.’ To that end, Iranian authorities have not spared Nazanin’s young daughter either ‘who has her passport confiscated and is currently in the care of relatives in Tehran.’ At present, the Guardian Online has reported ‘Nazanin’s husband fears that she may try to take her own life if she is not given her freedom soon.’ Iraqi authorities have imposed very harsh and unreasonable conditions on Nazanin ‘as she is no longer permitted to ring her husband in the UK and has been told that she can only see their five year old daughter once a month. Previously she had been allowed to see her twice a week.’ Precisely why such conditions have been imposed on an individual that was already suffering had not been made publicly clear by Iranian authorities.  What can be said fairly is that Nazanin’s treatment acts as a strong warning to other foreign nationals seeking to travel there and that Iranian authorities have a long way to go in both understanding and meeting human rights standards, which is crucial in the vie for peace. Here, it is to be noted that following ‘Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s 15 day hunger strike’ she was subject to torturous conditions in an Iranian psychiatric ward.  The Guardian online has reported that ‘Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in an Iranian psychiatric ward for six days where she was chained to the bed by hand cuffs and ankle cuffs.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe plight is nightmarish. It also serves to reiterate the value of candidness and transparency that ought to be exercised in civil society. Iran’s brutish treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is both unnerving and may force the global community to question Iran’s true intentions. This is a matter which high-level journalists have already begun to scrutinize.  In fact, it is worth noting here that ‘Harsher regulations aimed at controlling the political behaviour of students in Iranian universities have been implemented.’ Peace and regional security are invariably intertwined with the protection of individual rights and freedoms. As important as it is to have a responsible government, it is equally if not more important to have a government the values not abusing power.  Hopefully, through further diplomatic action Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter return home to England soon.

Nat Kumar