UK urged to take Iran to international court over woman’s jail sentencePublished by International Liberty Association on October 26, 2016
Human rights organisation calls for action after UN group rules Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention is arbitrary.
The human rights organisation Redress has called on the UK government to consider taking Iran to the international court of justice (ICJ) over the sentencing of a British-Iranian woman to five years in jail.
It comes after a UN-mandated body of human rights experts found that the ongoing detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arbitrary and that she was denied a fair trial and discriminated against as a dual national.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given a five-year sentence last month on charges that remain secret. She was arrested in April by members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards at Tehran’s international airport, where she and her then 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, had been about to return to the UK after a family visit.
The UN working group on arbitrary detention (WGAD), in response to a claim by Redress, ruled that the Briton’s imprisonment and her separation from her daughter, who is in the care of her Iranian grandparents, was in breach of the international covenant on civil and political rights.
Redress said on Thursday that Britain should bring a case against Iran before the ICJ if it continued to refuse consular access to dual nationals held in jail. Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and treats prisoners such as Zaghari-Ratcliffe solely as Iranian.
Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, said the WGAD had sent a powerful and unequivocal message to Iran. “We will be even more delighted when this young mother and her two-year-old child are back in Britain,” Ferstman added.
Redress and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, who is spearheading a campaign for his wife’s release, have been critical of the UK government’s muted response to her detention.
“The strong stand taken by the WGAD is in marked contrast with that of the British government, which has consistently refused to publicly call on Iran to release Nazanin and allow her and Gabriella home,” Ferstman said.
The UN body has said that it “considers that there is an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals in Iran”. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s dilemma is one of a string of cases involving dual nationals held behind bars in Iran.
The Iranian motive behind such arrests is still unclear but Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian professor who was released at the end of last month, has shed some light on the matter. Hoodfar told the Guardian there were “almost two different states functioning at the same time” in Iran and that she was a pawn in a political struggle in the country.
Hoodfar told BBC’s Persian service later that the unelected faction of the Iranian state, notably the Revolutionary Guards, responsible for arresting dual nationals, was seeking to undermine and pressure the elected faction of the state, which is the government of the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. The Guards oppose many of Rouhani’s domestic and foreign policies.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. The Revolutionary Guards have accused Zaghari-Ratcliffe of fomenting a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic and being the ringleader of a network of “hostile institutions” associated with foreign intelligence agencies, allegations that her husband has said are untrue.
Richard Ratcliffe, speaking to the Guardian on Thursday, said his wife had called him last Tuesday. She “expressed frustration with the waiting – she asked what I and the government were doing. She knew about Homa’s release, and said she couldn’t understand why not her also, when the UK has an embassy and Canada does not.”
He added: “I think the government can make it publicly clear that Nazanin’s and Gabriella’s treatment is unacceptable – you cannot sentence someone for five years on a secret crime, or clearly signal that you are holding a mother and effectively her young daughter as a political bargaining chip. It is a nonsense. And they should clearly say this is abuse.
“Also they could clarify that in their view those initial allegations – of her being involved in the overthrow of the regime, of her being a British spy – are not true. I’ve never seen a refutation, even in diplomatic terms. And they should be signalling that if Iran doesn’t solve this – doesn’t stop taking British dual nationals as bargaining chips – there will be consequences. That is why we talk about taking Iran to the international court of justice. Otherwise this could happen to anyone.”
Kamran Foroughi, whose father Kamal, a British-Iranian businessman, has also been kept in jail in Iran since 2011, said on Thursday that he was suffering cataracts and needed urgent operations on each eye. “So far in 2016 five US citizens and two Canadians have been released [from Iran], and none from the UK,” he said. “Given the US and Canada have no diplomatic relations and we have a fully functioning embassy, this is incredible.”