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Backbench Business — Iran (UK Foreign Policy)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:01 pm on 6th November 2014.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 1:01 pm, 6th November 2014

I should like to use the opportunity of this debate to raise the case of my constituent, Ghoncheh Ghavami, who has already been mentioned by Mr Bellingham. I think the case will be familiar to Members. A young woman—a British citizen— has been in prison in Tehran since the end of June for joining a group of women who wished to attend a volleyball match. I intend perhaps to be slightly less than forthright in speaking about this case because of its sensitivities. I will limit what I say to what is the public arena and to what I would like the Minister to respond to as regards the Foreign Office’s role.

As I say, I think the facts are relatively well known. Ms Ghavami was arrested on 20 June, released, and then rearrested 10 days later. She is charged with, and has now apparently been sentenced for, the offence of spreading propaganda against the system, but that arises out of the incident I described. She has been in solitary confinement. She has been on one hunger strike and is now on a second, more severe, hunger strike. There have been allegations of mistreatment against her during this period. She is a young woman of 25—a very bright law student with joint British-Iranian nationality who is resident, when she is the United Kingdom, in Shepherd’s Bush in my constituency with her brother. Her parents are resident in Tehran. A substantial amount of attention has been devoted to this case. The family, as one would expect, have acted in every possible way to try to secure her release, including lobbying the Iranian President in New York and lobbying and meeting members of the UK Government. Her family in Iran are doing the best they can. A petition calling for her release currently has more than 700,000 signatures.

I am not going to dwell too much on this aspect, but, for the record, I say to the Minister that I have not been impressed by the way in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has dealt with the matter thus far. I think it uncharacteristic of the Minister to take three weeks to reply to a letter, to send that letter by post, and to say that because of the Data Protection Act he will not go into details without Ms Ghavami’s “express permission”. I am not quite sure how I was supposed to obtain Ms Ghavami’s express permission. However, during the course of this debate I have received a letter from the Foreign Secretary admitting that that was the wrong approach and saying that there will be full co-operation with my office, and with the family, from now on. I will therefore say no more about it. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said to me in that letter. I do not intend to go into the detail of it.