Petition update

Statement in response to yesterday’s Sunday Times Report

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Nov 21, 2016 — Longer that a normal update - yesterday we made a public statement in response to a report that appeared in the Sunday Times. Given its importance, I post in full here:

UK Government’s Strange Behaviours:
Until recently it had been mystifying why the government has behaved so strangely these past 8 months.

As is known to you all, Nazanin and Gabriella have been detained in Iran for 231 days, when they had gone there for a two week holiday. Nazanin was held in solitary confinement and ruthlessly interrogated in the South of the country in a way that left her unable to walk, with Gabriella’s documents also taken there. Since June Nazanin has been held in Evin prison, without access to a lawyer until days before her secret trial, and later sentencing for 5 years for secret crimes. We and the government have been given various signals that her charges are political and can be resolved if the government does the right thing.

But the UK government’s response has been very strange:
• It has never once criticised Iran’s treatment of Nazanin, and abuse of her human rights, nor the arbitrary nature of her detention and trial – unlike for instance the UN
• No British politician or official from the Foreign Office has ever publicly called for Nazanin’s release, or for her to be reunited with Gabriella. They have only ever expressed concern.
• As a priority in the UK’s Iran policy, we have never once met the British Ambassador to Iran, nor the Foreign Secretary, nor Prime Minister, despite all our requests
• No one from the British Embassy in Tehran has ever visited Nazanin or Gabriella, or acknowledged our request that they do.
• The Foreign Office has refused to transfer Nazanin’s case to their special cases team (who handle other hostage situations), but kept in consular affairs.
• They have misled Parliament and told them that Gabriella was not detained – insisting that she had been left there at her father’s choice. When confronted with the inaccuracy, they reassured me it was a mistake and promised to correct the statement. Two months later that promise has not been kept, and that looks less like a mistake, more like it has become a deliberate belittling of her status.
• They promised to state that there was no evidence in the allegations that Nazanin is a spy. Another promise not kept.
• They have visited at least one Peer who had been asked to raise Nazanin’s case, and behind my back requested she stop lobbying for her.
• And for all the talk in public of supporting the family, we have had two emails (and one voicemail) in the past 80 days – that’s during the period where they knew she was suicidal.

I have to pinch myself – to remind myself that Nazanin and Gabriella are British.

So I have long wondered what else is going on?

Initially I wondered if the dismissiveness was because my family are not British enough – the Ministerial talk is always of ‘dual nationals’ somehow implying only ‘part nationals’, that they are not really British enough, a foreign family allowed to suffer a foreign fate.

Then I wondered if it was because Brexit Britain is vehemently ‘open for business.’ Last week the British Ambassador to Tehran found the time to come to London and be the guest speaker of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. While Nazanin is being held the government has put a lot of effort into upgrading trade relations, with the upgrading of the Embassy, supporting new deals in Iran for BA and BP. We’ve had two large trade conferences since Nazanin was taken, and received a large number of trade delegations. None of this we were told was happening. Let’s not let the mother and baby get in the way.

Liam Fox announced at the beginning of the month that: “[Iran] represents a once in a generation investment opportunity, as Iran is the biggest market to enter the global economy since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

What Else is Going On
Now it all makes sense.

As the Sunday Times revealed, there is a link as to why Nazanin is still being held, and the UK government’s reluctance to pay its debts. My family are caught as collateral.

On 5 June when Nazanin was in Kerman, she was promised to be released, without charge,. She told her family and her cellmates, and she left them with her parents number as a forwarding contact. Some of them still call to this day.

Except she wasn’t. Rather she was taken to the IRGC wing of Evin Prison (Tehran), where she was told she would be held until the British government made the agreement. A message was given to me via her parents on 21 June, reiterated on 13 July to pressure the British government to make the agreement, and Nazanin will be released.

What agreement? I have been continually asked ever since. The question should have been what was making the Iranians so cross that they would take a mother and baby in this way?

In private the Foreign Office flatly denied they had any idea, denied they’d ever asked for anything.

What they didn’t say is that the UK happens to owe Iran a large debt (£500 million) in relation to some Chieftain tanks – which were paid up front and never delivered. The deal was done through an arm’s length MOD company called ‘International Military Services Ltd.’ We have spent almost 40 years finding ways not to pay the Iranians back. Iran tried various diplomatic routes before in the end taking the UK to the International Court of Arbitration. After lots of appeals and counter appeals, Iran won back in 2010.

But still it has not been paid. As the negotiations have gone on, they have become increasingly angry, and increasingly willing to signal it.

Here’s the coincidence - There were two rounds of negotiations early this year, which broke down in March and May. (They are reported in the accounts available at Companies House). Nazanin was taken at the beginning of April, she was told she would be held as a bargaining chip from the beginning of June, two weeks later I was told to make the need for an agreement public when the message didn’t get through.

The coincidence extends backwards. There have been negotiations periodically since July 2010 (again you can read them in the accounts). All British dual nationals in Iranian prisons (that I know about) post-date the second round in 2011. It is quite a coincidence to my eyes (and I should be clear I do not speak for any other family) that you can map either the capture or arbitrary sentencing or even the release of all the other non-UK citizens taken in the same case for each UK prisoner to the breakdown of a stage in negotiations or legal delay (late March 2011, May 2013, May 2014, March 2016 and May 2016). They have signalled clearly throughout - they are collecting enough until the UK pays its debt.

Currently we claim it is bound by EU sanctions – which is true only insofar as we want it to be. The debt is to the government of Iran, only parts of that government are under sanctions. To Iran, it looks like hiding behind sanctions casuistry, just the latest ruse. As Nazanin’s husband, it looks that way to me.

Before these negotiations started in 2011, the UK position on arbitrary detentions in Iran was quite different. People were not allowed to be held for 200+ days, and the government didn’t used to stay silent. The British navy sailors taken in 2007 were got out within 13 days. The British Embassy staff taken in 2009, blamed for the post-election clashes were still released on bail after a little over a month. Then the Foreign Office chose to criticise the subsequent trial as an “outrage”, saying that: “We deplore these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights." The then Foreign Secretary was willing to say: “The detention of embassy staff was completely unjustified: I am confident that none of them were involved in any improper behaviour.”

Let us not pretend Nazanin has been similarly protected.

Nazanin, who works now as a media charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which gets some UK government funding though it does not work in Iran, and as someone who once worked as a Project Assistant for a year 8 years ago for the BBC development charity, BBC Media Action, is seen as important enough to be held as a bargaining chip, though not enough to be actually charged with any public crime. Even they know she was just there on holiday with her baby.

The grand, vague claims of being a British spy – are political code for a ‘ bargaining chip with Britain’ - a signal that the British government should understand.

Unfortunately for us, the government has chosen not to respond. Set against the money, it has been happy to leave Nazanin and Gabriella detained in Iran now for 231 days. Which is to say the government chooses to keep Nazanin in prison. It chooses to keep the other UK citizens there also. It chooses to keep silent. It chooses to keep the cash. They are all only dual nationals.

The Price Paid by Nazanin
And the government’s silence comes at a cost. As Amnesty have highlighted:

For a long time Nazanin has been suffering health concerns – pains in her hands and shoulders, blurred vision, little ability to eat or concentrate, unstoppable palpitations, less and less able to go on.

On October 23 she told me that she had written me a goodbye letter. She could not go on, she had stopped praying, stopped believing there was another way out. She asked me to remember her love for me, and to take good care of Gabriella.

I told the Foreign Office about the letter a couple of weeks back. They sent an email and left a voicemail.

Nazanin briefly picked up for a couple of weeks, but recently again fell very low. Last week she went on hunger strike – the only card she has to play. On Friday (after 5 days) her family were asked to make an emergency family visit. The sight was enough for her mother to pass out. It sent Gabriella hysterical. Only at that point could she be persuaded to eat at least one meal in front of them. It was at least a stay of the impending.

Time to Act
So I feel I have given the government time enough to solve this slowly and quietly. Now the government needs to act before this gets worse.

I am on record as saying the treatment of my wife brings the Iranian authorities shame – to use a mother and baby as business collateral in this way, for the wider pressures put on her and her family. I have said it is far from the principles of Islam.

But it should be said – and it should be said by me – that they are not the only bad guys here:

However ruthless the Iranian actions, they have a point. Allowing Nazanin to be treated this way, the continuing silence over her fate - holds a mirror up to the UK . 829,000 ordinary people on our petition can see it. The refusal to pay our debts, all the while allowing a mother and baby to be put through this - brings us shame.

And I accuse my government of not having my family’s best interests at heart.

UK failure to resolve means that it is inviting this treatment of its citizens all the time it refuses to pay its debts, refuses to acknowledge this is what is happening. Other families might want to take note. As all the while this hangs over UK-Iranian relations, it is likely the IRGC will keep escalating. For the benefit of my family, for the benefit of all families concerned with UK-Iranian relations, this needs to stop.

We have a question to the Prime Minister at this week’s PMQs. It is time for some answers.

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