The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a tragic one. In early 2016, the British-Iranian dual citizen was detained with her daughter at an Iranian airport while trying to return home to London. She says she was in Iran to introduce her young daughter to her Iranian grandparents, but the regime insists that she was there to conduct anti-Iranian espionage. Nazanin has been held in an Iranian jail ever since.
Now, despite a strong campaigning effort led by Nazanin’s husband Richard in the UK, Iran seems set to impose yet more prison time on the jailed mother. Her family has been told by officials to expect a further conviction to be upheld by an Iranian judge and her current five-year term to be extended.
Critics of the UK’s Foreign Secretary have argued that this latest punishment has come as direct result of Boris Johnson telling a House of Commons select committee in November last year that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to train journalists, a claim that both Nazanin and her family strenuously deny.
But Johnson immediately retracted his comments, admitted that they were incorrect and apologised to the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family for “inadvertently causing her further anguish”. The Foreign Secretary told colleagues in the House of Commons that they “should bear in mind that Iran’s regime and no-one else has chosen to separate this mother from her infant daughter for reasons even they find it difficult to explain or describe”.
Johnson subsequently undertook a relatively successful visit to Tehran at the end of last year and raised the case directly with his Iranian counterparts. Things were looking positive and there seemed to be genuine hope for her release in the not too distant future.
So why would Iran now take this step and jeopardise this apparent progress?
Sadly, it is far more likely that the latest charges are being imposed on Zaghari-Ratcliffe because of the recent developments surrounding the Iranian nuclear deal, rather than anything directly to do with her.
After US President Trump withdrew his Administration’s support for the arrangement, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China all agreed to continue their participation in the deal under its current stipulations. However, it seems the regime in Iran has panicked and is looking for any possible means of shoring up this support.
Thanks to the hard-fought campaigning of Richard Zaghari-Ratcliffe, his wife’s case has become a serious priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The matter has been frequently debated, statements have made, and high-level diplomatic talks have been held. Unfortunately, the profile of the issue has led the regime in Tehran to believe that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe represents an important trump card when dealing with the Foreign Secretary and the rest of the British Government.
What better method, in their eyes, to ensure that Britain remains committed to the post-Trump nuclear deal than to keep a key political pawn behind bars?
Excellent, they will have said in Tehran. But this pawn is no trading route or tactical piece of legislation, she is a woman, a mother and a British citizen.
Nazanin’s daughter Gabriella has not seen her father in over two years. Campaigners and diplomats are currently engaged in negotiations with Iranian officials to allow the two of them a single day’s release to celebrate Gabriella’s fourth birthday. Shrewd though it may be perceived, Iran’s handling of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe should only be viewed through a lens of viciousness and apathy.