Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 3:33 pm, 13th November 2017

I should like to make a statement on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in response to the right hon. Lady.

The whole House will join me in expressing our deep concern about the ordeal of this young mother, who has spent the last 19 months in jail in Iran. Every hon. Member will join the Government in urging the Iranian authorities to release her on humanitarian grounds.

I spoke by phone to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, yesterday, and we agreed to meet later this week. I told Mr Ratcliffe that the whole country is behind him and we all want to see his wife home safely.

In view of the understandable concern, I propose to describe the background to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and the efforts the Government are making to secure her release. In April last year, she was visiting her relations in Iran, along with her daughter, Gabriella, who was then only 22 months old, when she was arrested at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran while trying to board her flight back to the UK. The British Government have no doubt that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran on holiday and that that was the sole purpose of her visit. As I said in the House last week, my remarks on the subject before the Foreign Affairs Committee could and should have been clearer. I acknowledge that words I used were open to being misinterpreted, and I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I have inadvertently caused them any further anguish.

The House should bear in mind that Iran’s regime, and no one else, has chosen to separate this mother from her infant daughter for reasons that even it finds difficult to explain or describe. On 9 September 2016, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought to a secret trial and sentenced to five years in prison, supposedly for plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The House will note that so far as we can tell, no further charges have been brought against her and no further sentence has been imposed since that occasion over a year ago.

Eleven days after Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised her case with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in New York on 20 September 2016. Two days later, I raised her case with my Iranian counterpart, Mr Zarif. For the sake of completeness, the House should know that the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment with President Rouhani on 9 August 2016, and my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Hammond, wrote to the Iranian Foreign Minister about her plight, and other consular cases, on 29 August 2016. [This section has been corrected on 14 November 2017, column 1MC — read correction]

At every meeting with our Iranian counterparts, my colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to raise the cases of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other nationals held in Iranian jails. We have expressed our concerns at every level—official, ministerial, and prime ministerial—on every possible occasion during the 19 months that she has been in jail. In addition, Mr Ratcliffe has held regular meetings with my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, formerly the Minister for the Middle East, and with the current Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt.

A situation where a British mother is held in these circumstances is bound to cast a shadow over Britain’s relations with Iran at a moment when, in the aftermath of the agreement of the nuclear deal in July 2015 and the easing of sanctions, we had all hoped to witness a genuine improvement. So I shall travel to Iran myself later this year to review the full state of our bilateral relations and to drive home the strength of feeling in this House, and in the country at large, about the plight of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and other consular cases. In order to maximise the chances of achieving progress, I would venture to say that hon. Members should place the focus of responsibility on those who are keeping Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe behind bars and who have the power to release her whenever they so choose. We should be united in our demand that the humanitarian reasons for releasing her are so overwhelming that if Iran cares about its reputation in this country, then its leaders will do now what is manifestly right. I commend this statement to the House.