British Prisoners in Iran

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:06 pm on 18th July 2017.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 5:06 pm, 18th July 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to be back in Westminster Hall. I am grateful to the voters of Glasgow North for giving me this opportunity. I congratulate Tulip Siddiq on securing this important debate so early in the Parliament.

The cases we have heard about today, particularly those of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi, are of huge concern to constituents and campaigners across the country. Like almost everyone in the room, I have received at least dozens of emails from constituents, individual campaigners and organisations calling for the prisoners to be set free. I pay tribute to those campaigners, and particularly to the families of Nazanin and Kamal, who have to live daily with the reality of their loved ones being imprisoned yet refuse to give up the fight.

I also want to recognise other UK citizens detained overseas whose cases have been discussed before in Westminster Hall. They include Andy Tsege in Ethiopia and other prisoners of conscience around the world, such as Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, whose wife I had the privilege of meeting during the recent general election campaign. In all these situations, we see a particular injustice and a personal cause that ought to be rectified, but we also see wider questions about the UK’s diplomacy, its foreign policy and, ultimately, its role in the world.

We have heard about the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained for more than a year. Her final appeal against her five-year sentence, which was originally handed down in a secret trial on unspecified charges, was rejected in April by the supreme court. We have heard about how she was lifted without warning in Tehran airport, and how her physical and mental health continues to deteriorate during her incarceration. Her employer, Monique Villa, chief executive officer of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, recently told The Guardian:

“She is not a spy, but an innocent mother who travelled to Iran only to show her baby to her parents”.

As my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry said, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has thousands of supporters across this country. In previous debates, I have mentioned seeing and hearing the demonstrations that have taken place outside Parliament in solidarity with Nazanin, and both her case and Kamal’s have been raised with me by my local Amnesty group, yet the UK Government’s response is still lacking. I will ask specific questions, but I note the comments of Nazanin’s husband, Richard, who told The Guardian:

“As her husband, I can say Nazanin is innocent until I am blue in the face. I have spent a year doing it…But it makes a clear difference that the government”— that is the UK Government—

“hasn’t. It indulges the whispers.”

I turn to the case of Kamal Foroughi—“Grandpa Kamal”, as he is known. I had the privilege of meeting Kamran, who is a constituent of Oliver Dowden and is here today. Kamal Foroughi was first detained in 2011 and was convicted at an unfair trial on charges that he did not know about until the day of his trial. His situation has been described by the UN working group on arbitrary detention, which has called for his immediate release, as a “violation of international law”. Once again, there are serious concerns about his health and wellbeing, and his access to communication with his family and the outside world has been severely limited. As I said, I had the privilege before the election of meeting Kamran Foroughi, and that brought home to me the human dimension in all this—the personal struggle, the lives affected and the simple wish of the family to have their grandpa brought home.

I echo all the questions that have been asked of the Minister already. As I said, as is so often the case with prisoners of conscience, there are both personal situations and broader policy issues. What engagement have the Government had with the families of the prisoners? What channels of communication remain open to them? Do the Government accept and understand the huge public concern about the cases, and that it is clear from the cross-party show of support from Members that they would have huge support if they stepped up their efforts to secure the release of Nazanin and Kamal?

The Prime Minister recently called on us all to work together, come to consensus and find things we can agree on. Here, surely, is an example of that. We hear repeatedly from Ministers that they raise issues with the Iranian regime—what does “raise” mean? Do they explicitly call for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi? Will the Minister do so here today?

Do the Government pass on the concerns raised in these debates? Do they suggest to the Iranian regime that if they want to continue to build global good will and make progress on the journey they began with the nuclear deal, recognising international concern about their prisoners of conscience would be a big step in that direction? What does that tell us about the UK’s wider foreign policy goals? If the Government want to promote a global Britain and show that Britain is still relevant on the world stage, surely securing the release of a young mother and an older grandfather who are its own citizens would be a pretty good place to start.

I echo the comments made by Mr Carmichael about the role of our influence with regional allies and by Stella Creasy about trade deals. We need more than warm words from the Minister. I hope that when he responds to the debate we will hear about some concrete action that will ultimately help to free Nazanin and Kamal and reunite them with their families.