The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says reports on British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release are inaccurate. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been in Iranian custody since 2016, was set to be released in March. In reality, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to another year in prison and a year-long travel ban. Now, Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are calling upon Iran to release the aid worker, among others, immediately.
One of this case’s most troubling aspects is Iran’s lack of transparency. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard asserted that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was leading a “foreign-linked hostile network,” but the aid worker denies the claims. The B.B.C. says that there is no evidence to support the Revolutionary Guard’s accusation. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed shortly after an unfair trial on a national security charge Amnesty U.K. says was vague. The aid worker reportedly resorted to a hunger strike after being denied specialized medical assistance in January 2019, the B.B.C. says. According to Amnesty U.K., she was also placed in solitary confinement for eight and a half months.
“It’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who have [been] held arbitrarily,” Raab said in a press conference. “Nazanin is held unlawfully in my view, as a matter of international law,” he continued. “I think she’s being treated in the most abusive, tortuous way.”
Raab also suspects that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment is being used as diplomatic leverage. The aid worker asserts that her jailers told her that her imprisonment is connected to a $556 million military debt the U.K. owes Iran. Iranian state TV indicated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be freed as part of a bargain that would entail the U.K. repaying its debt to Tehran. However, Raab says that the debt payment is not entirely contingent upon the release, and Prime Minister Johnson maintains the debts are a separate issue. The B.B.C. reports that the British government is working on paying the 50-year-old debt back, but is not framing the repayment as a negotiation for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return to the U.K.
Amnesty U.K. notes that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was granted diplomatic protection in 2019 – a potentially helpful tool which, thus far, has seemingly been overlooked.
As Raab said, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s abuse violates international law and infringes on her human rights. Although her release is the current goal at hand, the international community must understand that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is one among many. The B.B.C. says that Iran has a history of arbitrarily jailing British dual-nationals. Anoosheh Ashoori is another British-Iranian serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for unfounded claims. Recent reports have indicated that Ashoori has no phone access, one of his last connections to the outside world. The Guardian also reports that Ashoori has committed multiple suicide attempts.
Human rights abuses committed against prisoners are a systemic issue in Iran. Iranian authorities heavily suppress rights to expression and assembly, and prison officials have subjected detainees to tortures including beatings, electric shocks, and solitary confinement, Amnesty International reports. The abuse has largely been targeted to political dissidents and journalists. This makes Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose previous work with the B.B.C. sought to train Iranians in journalism, a predictable target.
The U.K. should make efforts to mobilize the international community, especially other countries who have citizens held in Iranian detention centers, to condemn Iran’s torture of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other captives and to address the systemic human rights abuses Iran has committed. The U.S. and the U.K. have indeed been working together to free the citizens they have held Iranian custody, but the involvement of other affected states would further their goals. The broader international community, however, currently appears to be more concerned with the J.C.P.O.A., also known as the Iran Arms Deal. While the J.C.P.O.A. does provide proper grounds for regional and global stability, the world must also address the abuses individuals are currently suffering.
The United Kingdom’s efforts to bring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back to the country following her second sentencing are encouraging, but the atrocious human rights abuses Iran has committed and its lack of transparency as a whole are incredibly troubling. Ultimately, the international community must work together to hold Iran accountable.