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Iran allegations against Foundation executive 'totally absurd', UK response 'disappointing'

Iran is holding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hostage and the allegations against her are "totally absurd," legal counsel for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, her employer, has said - but Britain could do more to help secure her freedom.

Revolutionary Court judge Abolghasem Salavati ruled on Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case in a secret trial lasting three hours on 14 August. But more than a week on, her family has still not been informed of the charges against her, and they were not allowed to attend the trial. 

Iran was been given until 22 August to respond to a petition filed by her husband Richard Ratcliffe at the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Geoffrey Robertson,​ the Foundation's counsel, said the world would be watching as Iran ruled on her case. “Nazanin was held for four months, for some of that time in solitary confinement, before even being brought before a judge. So much for habeus corpus! The judge she was brought before eventually, and who is now in charge of her case - Judge Salavati - has a bad reputation. But the eyes of the world will be upon him in this case, and his handling of it will be subject to intense scrutiny.”

Revolutionary Guards arrested Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Foundation executive, in April as she was leaving Iran after visiting her parents.

The Foundation’s chief executive Monique Villa denied an accusation published by an Iranian website that it had spied on the country.

“It is impossible to say why she was arrested,” Robertson said. “It may simply be paranoia - the fact that she works for a media organisation. More likely, it is because she is a dual national - born in Iran but married to a Briton and living in England. Her arrest demonstrates the dangers facing all Iranian dual nationals, because several others in that category have also been arrested. They should be warned that they are at risk if they go back to visit relatives. They can be held, like Nazanin, and used as bargaining chips in Iran’s dealings with the West.”

Iranian authorities confiscated the British passport of her daughter, Gabriella, aged two, who was with her at the time of her arrest. The child is staying with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s parents in Tehran.

Robertson and Penny Madden, who also provides legal counsel on the case, wrote last month to British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, appealing for his intervention. “The plight of Nazanin is of utmost urgency and cannot continue to be ignored,” the letter stated. “She has been subjected to the harshest injustice, and it is critical that she now receives the full immediate support and attention from the highest levels of government.”

Robertson said the UK’s level of intervention had been disappointing. “The new UK Government has been incredibly supine. Although David Cameron raised her case with Iran when he was prime minister, Theresa May and Boris Johnson did and said nothing until their indifference was a subject of critical comment in The Times. A few days later Downing Street said that Mrs May had finally raised the matter with her Iranian counterpart, although it gave no indication that there had been any response. At very least one would expect the foreign secretary to have called in the Iranian ambassador and demanded consular access to Nazanin, and to have insisted on the return of her child’s British passport and a safe conduct for her husband to travel to Iran and visit her in prison. In my view, he has abjectly abandoned his duty in this case to assist British citizens subjected to outrageous violations of their human rights.”

Robertson said previous cases of dual nationals jailed in Iran might offer some insight but they did not necessarily provide a blueprint for what might happen next. “Every case is different and it is hard to predict,” he said. “We have seen the recent release of several American prisoners, evidently in return for financial concessions by the US. This regime is brutal, but it is not stupid, and rational self-interest, to avoid re-imposition of sanctions or further diplomatic damage, may incline it to do the right thing.” ■

Iran Wire