British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, born December 26th 1978, is currently imprisoned in Iran, and has been imprisoned since April 3rd 2016. She stands accused of plotting against the Iranian government and spreading propaganda against Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a Canadian global information and news network. The charitable foundation has been providing practical training programs for reporters worldwide. To date, some 15.000 journalists have been trained internationally with the Foundation. In March 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe traveled to Iran with her 2-year old daughter, Gabriella, to visit her family and celebrate Nowruz (Iranian New Year). Some 3 weeks later, on April 3rd 2016, on their way back to the UK, Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrest her and her daughter at the Imam Khomeini Airport.
The official reason for her arrest according to the Iranian government is her plotting against the Iranian regime through her previous activities under the direction of media and intelligence services of foreign governments, in other words: espionage. For instance, she was, according to the prosecutor general of Tehran, running a BBC Persian online course in journalism in order to recruit and train people in spreading propaganda against Iran. Zaghari-Ratcliffe did indeed work for the BBC World Service Trust between 2009 and 2010. BBC described her role as “junior and purely administrative”. In September 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has a different view on the reasons for his wife’s imprisonment. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has herself had the full explanation by her interrogators concerning the “1971 arms deal” between the UK and Iran.
In 1971, the Iranian government made a £650 million deal with the UK for military arms. When the Shah was overthrown and his regime fell the succeeding Islamic regime requested a partial refund on undelivered tanks. The remaining amount owed has been judged to be around £400 million. According to the UK, the payment cannot be done without breaching EU sanctions; moreover the payment would fall into the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), recently declared a terrorist organization by the US.
Similarly, in 2016, the United States refunded Iran $400 million for undelivered military arms, which resulted in the release of four Iranian-Americans, including a Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Coincidence? Rezaian was, not surprisingly, also charged with espionage.
These associations are rejected by the Iranian government.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s time in prison is difficult to imagine, continuously being denied medical attention, not to mention denied seeing her daughter, as well as receiving threats to her and her family’s lives. Her interrogators have tried to persuade her to become a spy for the Iranian regime, which she has refused.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has diligently tried to raise attention and urge both leaders in the UK and Iran to take appropriate action in his wife’s release and safe return with their daughter. Online petitions has been launched and around 2 million supporters in 155 countries worldwide have signed and demanded Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release from prison. The United Nations has urged Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release on several occasions.
Recently both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe launched a hunger strike together. Ratcliffe has spent over a week outside the Iranian embassy in London on a hunger strike, demanding his wife’s release.
Aras Amiri, a 33-year old London-based British council employee, was arrested in 2018, during a family visit in Iran. She has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after “clear confession”; the striking similarities in these and many other cases are too obvious.
In May 2019, the UK advised British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran. The advice also cautions Iranians living in UK to travel to Iran. A warning soon to include many more in a country where laws and the practice of justice has become a theatrical scenery. But also a country that gave us courageous and unwavering people like Nazanin Zaghari-atcliffe, who finds her moral voice stronger than her freedom. For one stops to think from time to time, what would I have done in the same situation?
Author: Susanne Jameson