British Prisoners in Iran

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 18th July 2017.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:11 pm, 18th July 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, who has secured this timely debate and has never given up on behalf of her constituents—especially Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving that terrible and immoral sentence in the dreadful Evin jail in Tehran. She gave us a comprehensive account of how her constituent happened to be convicted and of her appalling treatment by the Iranian authorities. She was passionate, as always, and she has fought hard for her constituent, who has been denied justice for the past 14 months in detention in Iran.

We have also heard contributions from the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—he was passionate as always—and for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), and from my new colleague, my hon. Friend Alex Sobel, who pointed out that he had received 100 emails from constituents and that the situation really was Kafkaesque. He is absolutely right. I hope the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes his advice and presses the Iranian Government at least to allow the medical care and attention needed.

We know that Iran does not recognise dual nationality—we have heard that many times this afternoon. It will not allow our diplomats to see dual nationals who are imprisoned in Iran. The Iranian Government view dual nationals with intense suspicion. That is an historical situation, and the United Kingdom is viewed with even more contempt owing to its historical interference in the country. The BBC’s Persian service is loathed by Iranian officials. As we know, dual nationals are barred from holding Government positions. The imprisonment of dual nationals has been seen by many as a way of extracting political and financial gains from the countries that dual nationals share their citizenship with.

The Financial Times says:

“These arrests are part of the tense power struggle between those who would like to get closer to the US and those who are scared of any impacts of that on Iran’s domestic politics…The goal seems to be spreading fears to undermine the government of Rouhani in western states’
eyes and foreign businesses.”

We know that the Government restored full diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2016, but Kamal Foroughi’s son, Kamran, has criticised the United Kingdom for doing so without pushing harder for his father’s release as part of the diplomatic normalisation process. I wonder whether the Minister will comment on that.

In April 2017, Amnesty International criticised the Foreign Secretary for his lack of action over Nazanin. Kathy Voss of Amnesty International was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying:

“It’s baffling that the Foreign Secretary still hasn’t had a single meeting with Nazanin’s family who are of course sick with worry about her.”

Nazanin was arrested, as we have heard, by the revolutionary guards at the airport on 3 April 2016, just before she was about to return to the United Kingdom after a family visit. They accused her of fomenting a soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic—a notably common and broad definition of crime—but her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, claims that his wife is being held to be used as a pawn by the Iranian authorities in exchange for unspecified political and financial deals in the UK. He has mentioned in the past that he has been approached by unspecified Iranian officials with offers for Nazanin’s release. That is shocking, and I wonder if the Minister could comment on it.

The United Kingdom Government, as we have heard, have not publicly called for Nazanin’s release. However, they have stated that they have raised their concerns with the Iranian Government. The shadow Foreign Secretary said on 9 September 2016:

“It is no longer good enough for Downing Street and the Foreign Office to ‘raise concerns’
about this case. It is time for them to demand answers.”

Let me conclude with the words of Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, quoted on 2 July:

“I don’t think the [UK] government has been protecting us;
they have provided consular assistance and they have expressed concerns…but in terms of criticising her treatment and saying it’s abuse, they’ve never said that this does not meet the minimum legal standards, that it’s not a fair trial. That this is a nonsense. She’s obviously not important enough yet.”

I want to remind Members here that Roya Nobakht and Bahman Daroshafaei are also British dual nationals in jail in Tehran.