Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: UK should downgrade ties with Iran over jailing of British mother, says Peace Prize lawyer

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained on spying charges while on holiday with her daughter Gabriella 18 months ago

11.11.2017 –Independent  – Shehab Khan – Exclusive: Nobel laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi says government could take decisive action to ensure UK citizen’s safe release, but Boris Johnson’s handling of situation ‘has not helped’

The UK should downgrade its diplomatic ties with Iran to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights lawyer has told The Independent.

Dr Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s only Nobel Laureate, said that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held as a political “hostage” by Tehran and suggested the British Government may be expected to pay some form of ransom to ensure her safe release.

The 70-year-old human rights lawyer was also critical of Boris Johnson, who came under fire this week for incorrectly telling a Commons committee Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “teaching journalists” in Iran. The Foreign Office has since accepted that the “sole purpose” of her visit was a holiday.

Dr Ebadi said the Foreign Secretary’s comments “had not helped” and were “not in Nazanin’s interests”. And she said there were a number of options the British Government could now pursue to try and help in her case.

“The UK Government must say to Tehran, you must observe human rights, including the release of Nazanin. Otherwise the British Government must threaten to downgrade political relations from ambassadorial to a lower level in Iran,” Dr Ebadi said.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has dual British-Iranian nationality, was detained on spying charges while on holiday with her daughter Gabriella 18 months ago. Gabriella, who is now three, has remained in Iran while Richard Ratcliffe, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, is in the UK.

Mr Ratcliffe has worked tirelessly to bring his wife home and has urged Mr Johnson to escort him to Iran so he can see his daughter. In an interview with The Independent last month, he said his wife’s detention included almost nine months in solitary confinement and amounted to “psychological torture”.

The charges against Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe appear to stem from the fact she works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as a project manager for the media’s charitable works. Her employer has repeated stated that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe does not train journalists, and the foundation does not operate in Iran.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Iranian Shirin Ebadi addresses a press conference in Honduras in October (AFP/Getty Images)

The Iranian authorities insist that the proceedings against Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe followed the country’s judicial process. They also point out that Iran does not recognise dual nationality and thus she is regarded as an Iranian citizen. They point out that she sees her child every day and is in daily communication with her husband in the UK. British diplomatic sources say there has been no “ransom” demand from Tehran over Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and they were not expecting any. Efforts will continue, they say, to get her released.

After Mr Johnson made his comments to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to an unscheduled court hearing and issued with new charges of spreading propaganda against Iran. She has been threatened with another five years in prison on top of her existing five years sentence. Mr Johnson has denied there is a link between his comments and these proceedings.

Dr Ebadi, a former judge in Iran, likened the situation to that of Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American journalist who served as Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post. He was arrested in Iran and convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial in 2015.

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