Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 11:46 am on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 11:46 am, 18th July 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given yesterday by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison, in the other place to a Question with reference to Mrs Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Statement is as follows:

“Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have told us that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini public hospital on Monday. Her family have yet to be allowed to visit her or to make a phone call. We are lobbying the Iranian authorities to ensure that her family are able to visit as soon as possible, as well as continuing to lobby for consular access, so that we can check on her care as a matter of urgency. We remain in close contact with her family in Tehran and with Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, in London.

The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister on Saturday 13 July and raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and those of other dual nationals detained in Iran. The Foreign Secretary made it clear, as he has in public, that innocent people in prison must not be used as diplomatic leverage and called for their release. I also raised the case on a recent visit to Iran. The Foreign Secretary exercised diplomatic protection in March 2019, and we will continue to do all we can to reunite Nazanin and her family. The Government lobby strongly on behalf of all our dual national cases, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels. The welfare of British nationals in detention is a high priority for us. We have made it clear that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be treated humanely and in line with international standards and norms.

If I can say something on a personal note as a parent, this case has rightly gripped the hearts of the British people. I hope that this development is the first step towards a brighter future for Nazanin and her family. I hope that Iran will be generous and humane in its approach to this family, who have been separated for far too long; that we can rely on elements within Iran that we know are decent and civilised; that it will apply international norms and behaviours in respect of this sad case; and that Nazanin and her family can be brought together as soon as possible”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 11:48 am, 18th July 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to yesterday’s Urgent Question. We all share the sentiments in the Statement about concern for the family and the impact that this is having on the health of Nazanin, and also on Richard, who has been tireless in his support for his wife.

The Minister, Dr Murrison, in his highly measured response to the Urgent Question yesterday, recognised that there are many Irans, not simply the Government. He also mentioned the Supreme Leader. He said it was vital that global opinion is mobilised, because those different elements in Iran would be more responsive to that sort of pressure. Can the Minister tell us what we are doing to ensure that other voices are speaking in support of Nazanin? What are we doing with our EU partners to take up this case in particular? In the debate yesterday, we talked about faith groups and how important their opinions are. How we mobilise those voices is really important.

The Statement mentioned that we now have diplomatic protection for Nazanin and have escalated her case to that of a country dispute. Can the Minister say what further steps the Government can take in this respect to secure to Nazanin’s freedom? Finally, I am not asking the Minister to predict who will be Foreign Secretary in a week’s time, but can she assure us that, whatever the eventualities and changes, this case will remain a high priority not only for the Government but for the FCO and the new Foreign Secretary?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord not only for his questions but for his demeanour and sympathy in addressing this issue. This case has attracted global attention and Iran is under a magnifying glass. Historically, as my noble friend Dr Murrison said yesterday, Iran has been a country of generosity and magnanimity. For Iran to now do the right thing by Nazanin and her family would send a powerful message that these benevolent sentiments, which we all admire, exist in Iran. It would be a powerful step forward on all fronts.

On the possibility of other forms of dialogue taking place, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. This is a situation where any form of exchange of view, any form of discourse and any conduit for communication is to be welcomed. We would applaud anyone who can make suggestions as to how we might enhance that broader communicatory approach. The noble Lord is aware that the Government are lobbying relentlessly, not only for humane treatment for Nazanin, consular access, and of course access by her family, but for her release.

On the final point, I reassure the noble Lord that whoever is the next Prime Minister, this case will remain at the forefront of the British Government’s diplomatic and foreign and Commonwealth agenda.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Answer and for her comments just now. She clearly recognises, as we all do, that Nazanin is in a desperate situation and her family are rightly worried about this latest development. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has mentioned, she was granted diplomatic protection in March. I want to press the Minister a little further on that, as it did not emerge from the questions in the Commons: what progress is being made as a result of diplomatic protection being granted?

On the wider issue, Nazanin and the other dual nationals are obviously being detained at an extremely dangerous time in the region. What are we doing to try to ensure that the even greater instability that has been created by the United States pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal is being countered as we try to assist Nazanin and the others who are in this desperate situation?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Baroness. On her first question, it was felt that elevating the situation to one of diplomatic protection gave the case not only status in the United Kingdom but a global status. As the noble Baroness will be aware, my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—whether the Foreign Secretary or my right honourable friend Dr Murrison—have been very energetic in their efforts to keep communicating with Iran to relay their concerns. She will be aware that Dr Murrison visited Tehran recently and that de-escalation was absolutely his message. We want matters to approach something that looks a little more normal in relation to the situation of tension that now exists in the region.

I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that there is global awareness of this case; it is on the global radar screen. That is helpful, because Iran has to understand that there is a magnifying glass on it and people are watching closely how it conducts itself. I assure the noble Baroness that my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are unrelenting in their efforts to use every facility available to them to press the case for Nazanin and her family.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether what I have heard is true: that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has now served the proportion of the sentence—which of course, in our view, she should not have been condemned under—that, under the Iranian legal system, enables her to be released? If so, is that not a possible way forward?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for raising an interesting point. He is quite correct: the view of the United Kingdom Government has always been that Nazanin was wrongly imprisoned. Let us be crystal clear about that. I understand that she has served approximately two years of her sentence. I am interested in the noble Lord’s observation; it is something I shall certainly investigate further.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, is it possible that there are any people outside government circles who could act as intermediaries and might have some influence in Iran?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend. That is a very interesting suggestion and perhaps an echo of a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. There is always a facility for greater use of other intermediaries or interlocutors. It may be that the communities of faith can come together on a cross-faith basis and be a medium for further communication. I see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle sitting in her place. It may be that the Church, through the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, has some role to play in this.

I was struck by something that the honourable Member for Rhondda, Chris Bryant, said yesterday in the other place—that Islam is,

“a religion of phenomenal humanity, generosity and magnanimity”. —[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/19; col. 853.]

It is possible that there is scope for some cross-faith, multifaith approach. I am sure that if the communities of faith were to consider that and see whether there was something they could do, that would be a very welcome development.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, I met Richard Ratcliffe when he was working in the House of Commons, and I am absolutely sure that his wife is innocent and that his family do not deserve to be suffering what they have suffered. I ask the Minister to correct her response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: she has actually been in prison for three years and, as I understand it, would be entitled for release under Iranian law. Can the Minister say that, yes, we should appeal to the magnanimity and good sense of the Iranians, but also that they should understand that the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for any minute longer compromises any positive diplomatic relations?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord; I may have misinformed the Chamber. I think she has about two years left to serve of her prison sentence. The noble Lord is quite correct and I apologise for that mistake. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised a very interesting point, one that I shall certainly pursue. On the question of diplomatic relations in general, we do not have consular access. We have an embassy in Tehran, as the noble Lord is aware. The difficulty is that Iran takes the view that, because Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has dual nationality, we are not entitled to access. None the less, we strenuously continue our efforts to seek access and reassurance that she is being humanely treated. The noble Lord raises an important point about diplomacy. Diplomatic relations exist to facilitate contact between states for the mutual benefit of their citizens.