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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe campaign urges sanctions against 10 Iranians

·4-min read

The campaign to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national, is to mark her 2,000th day in detention in Iran this week by demanding the British Foreign Office urgently impose sanctions on 10 Iranians most directly involved in Iranian state hostage-taking since 1979.

It is the first time the campaign has asked for individual Iranians to be sanctioned by imposing asset freezes and travel bans. The new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is due to meet with the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, at the UN in New York this week, the first British-Iranian bilateral meeting at this level since 2018.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016, and is currently refused permission to leave Tehran even though she has already completed her initial five-year sentence. Her 2,000th day of detention is on Thursday.

A dossier naming the 10 Iranians who should be sanctioned is being sent to Truss by the Free Nazanin campaign and Redress, the legal advisers who have sought her release. They say they will submit two further lists of Iranian officials in the months ahead, adding that the list was compiled through talking to 25 families who have been subject to arrest, jailing and then being used as a negotiating lever.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “Iran conducts its diplomatic business through hostage-taking, in part because it is cost-free. British citizens will not be protected from hostage-taking by words and soundbites, but by actions that cause the perpetrators to reassess their calculations, and consider the personal costs – for their role in what is a serial organised crime.”

He added: “Diplomacy is not an abstract science; it has to be personal. This means the foreign secretary needs to be proactive when she engages with Iran this coming week, and she needs to be brave. Or there will be more hostages taken by Iran, and new copycat regimes.”

Truss is the fifth UK foreign secretary to be handed the Zaghari-Ratcliffe file, and many of them have promised to leave no stone unturned, but none so far has been willing to describe her arrest, sentencing and detention as state hostage-taking.

Redress claims her case is one of at least 30 cases of foreign nationals who have been arbitrarily detained in Iran for diplomatic leverage in recent years.

There have been reports that the British were willing to pay a £400m acknowledged debt to Iran into a Swiss account in return for the release of British detainees, but the deal fell through at the last moment.

The 10 Iranians who would be subject to sanction are said to have been involved in various stages of her detention, ranging from initial arrest and interrogation, the legal proceedings, abuse in prison amounting to torture, false propaganda, and her deployment as an asset in diplomatic negotiations.

For security reasons the campaign is not releasing at this stage the names of the 10 Iranians.

Redress claims Iran’s practice of arbitrarily detaining, torturing and mistreating foreign and dual nationals for diplomatic leverage over other states amounts to state hostage-taking, both in fact and in law.

It adds that Iran’s state hostage-taking practice constitutes “sanctionable activities” under both the UK’s global human rights sanctions regime and its Iran sanctions human Rights regime.

Some of the perpetrators identified have already been sanctioned.

The campaign is in part an effort to persuade governments, not just in the UK, to recognise that they are dealing with a systematic practice that needs identifying before it can be stamped out. At various times UK foreign secretarieshave agreed Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a hostage, but generally have been reluctant to say as much in public.

Since her arrest in April 2016 Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than eight months in solitary confinement and been denied urgent medical treatment. She was released from house arrest on 7 March 2021 but was immediately re-tried for a second set of charges on 14 March 2021. She was sentenced to a further one-year jail sentence and one-year travel ban on 26 April 2021. This sentence has not yet been implemented, pending the outcome of an appeal, as yet unscheduled.

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