This week, the media has been dominated by one story: who paid for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat. What has received less attention is the tragic news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been sentenced again, meaning she will be sent back to prison.
Nazanin is an Iranian-British journalist, who was arrested in 2016 by Iranian authorities on spying charges which she has always denied. She was sentenced to 5 years in prison for‘plotting to topple the Iranian regime’ and, since then, human rights organisations and politicians alike have campaigned for her freedom and criticised the unjust conviction.
This week, Nazanin has been sentenced to another year on charges of ‘propaganda activities against the regime’ in Iran. Nazanin’s sentence includes a year’s travel ban, effectively making it a two-year sentence.
During the pandemic, Nazanin was kept under house arrest. This March, when her sentence expired, she was released and had her ankle tag removed.
Yet Nazanin is not free. The Iranian regime has sought to punish Nazanin with more trumped-up charges, adding a year to her sentence and issuing a travel ban. This means she will be forced to stay in Iran for another two years, separated from her husband and daughter.
The Prime Minister has talked about redoubling his efforts to get Nazanin home. I think we all would like to see the Prime Minister be successful in these efforts, but I will not hold my breath. We have no evidence of his current work to secure Nazanin’s release and it was, in fact, Boris Johnson’s failures as Foreign Secretary in 2017 that has caused Nazanin and her family so much pain. At the time, he exposed his complete ignorance of the case and did more harm than good.
Nazanin’s sentences have become politicised, used as leverage for negotiations over British-Iran debt repayments and Iran’s enrichment of nuclear material. We cannot control the Iranian regime’s actions, but the UK Government can control its own. Our Government must make the most of the diplomatic protection given to Nazanin back in 2019 and they should provide Nazanin with consular assistance, as it their right under international law.
Additionally, the British Government should work more closely with the international community to secure the release of Nazanin and the dozen individuals who have faced similar charges recently. In my parliamentary work, I have also raised the possibility of the Government sponsoring an all-faith delegation, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to Tehran so that they can plead for the release of Nazanin.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held hostage by Iran and is a victim of torture. Boris Johnson and his government must match their rhetoric with action, and work tirelessly and creatively to secure her release. She deserves to be home with her husband and their children.