Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case reflects Iran’s targeting of dual nationals
Britain’s relationship with Iran has long been colourful and often fraught. Not even the United States so deeply pricks Iranian sensibilities or has so fuelled their conspiracy theorists. These include Iranians not born when the popular 1970s television series “My Uncle Napoleon” featured a character convinced British plots were behind all his problems.
Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, is as haphazard as dear Uncle. Johnson’s comment to the British parliament that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the 38-year-old British-Iranian dual national jailed in Tehran, was training journalists before her arrest in April 2016 contradicted the UK government’s insistence she was in Iran on holiday with her daughter. Her British husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, stressed Johnson had erred. Iran’s media seized on Johnson’s “confession” and Zaghari-Ratcliffe received a five-year sentence for the charge of subversion.
What happens next? Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, the international human rights organisation advising Richard Ratcliffe, says the UK foreign secretary has “recognise[d] the severity of the case.” Redress, which has supported the family since May 2016, previously commissioned an expert legal brief on how diplomatic protection might apply to Zaghari- Ratcliffe’s case. In essence, this would escalate it to a state-to-state matter subject to international law. “It’s extremely rare to trigger this procedure,” a legal consultant told The Arab Weekly.
The brief was prepared by prominent barristers led by John Dugard, former special rapporteur of the International Law Commission, a UN body. “We have urged the Foreign Office to place Nazanin under the diplomatic protection of the United Kingdom,” Juergen Schurr, Redress’s head of law and policy, said.
Richard Ratcliffe has backed the move and criticised the government’s “softly” approach. He has also sympathised with calls for London to hand Iran £450 million ($595.6 million) over a 38-year old tank dispute. In 2009, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that Britain should pay Iran back the funds for a tank deal that failed to materialise in 1979, but international sanctions ostensibly delayed the transfer. The debt was linked to the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case by an unnamed minister quoted by a British tabloid.
Before meeting Ratcliffe earlier this month, Johnson said he “would leave no stone unturned” to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. However, he has not yet agreed to extend diplomatic protection, with the Foreign Office doubting it would help.
This leaves the case a consular matter, at least for now. But Redress points out that Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, refuses to let the UK consul in Tehran see Zaghari-Ratcliffe on the grounds she is an Iranian citizen. She is, however, allowed to talk to her husband by phone and to see her young daughter, who is in Iran with her grandparents.
Redress rejects the argument that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is solely Iranian, which has potential implications for other dual nationals held in Iran, including Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his elderly father, Baquer.
If anything, said Schurr of Redress, “Nazanin has been targeted because of her dual Iranian-UK nationality.” He added: “This was the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, of the UN special rapporteur on Iran and of the experts who put together the expert legal brief we released on 23 October 2017.” Redress also stressed that the expert brief on diplomatic protection found her predominant nationality to be British, because of her extensive ties to the UK. “This gives the UK the right to assert diplomatic protection, even though the offending state is Iran, the state of Nazanin’s other nationality,” said Schurr.
This chimes with growing international criticism of Iran’s human rights record. On November 14, a UN committee that prepares drafts for the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning “widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention, including the use of such practices to target dual and foreign nationals.”
Among 83 countries in favour were sponsors Canada, the US, the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Among 30 voting against were Iran’s allies Syria and Venezuela, as well as China and Russia. Among 68 abstaining were Qatar, Egypt, Chile and Brazil. Many countries vote against or abstain on such votes because they oppose country-specific resolutions or allege double standards.
Schurr said Redress was “not able to comment on the general situation [in Iran] on torture, human rights and respect for judicial norms.” But he was clear that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “fundamental human rights have been violated and this is compounded with every day that passes.”