Zaghari-Ratcliffe case gaining global attention

Despite being eligible for parole, Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, where she has complained of lack of medical treatment.
Sunday 20/01/2019
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran,  following her release from prison for three days, last August. (AFP)
Ongoing ordeal. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran, following her release from prison for three days, last August. (AFP)

LONDON - Iran is finding itself under increased international pressure over the case of imprisoned British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who went on a hunger strike in an attempt to secure medical treatment. There have been calls for Britain to grant her diplomatic protection and take stronger actions to secure her release.

The hunger strike began days after Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband revealed that his wife had been “pushed to the edge” after she was pressured by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers to spy for Iran.

“They tried to push her to become a spy for Iran in the UK,” Richard Ratcliffe said January 14 at a news conference. “She was told it would be safe for her and safer for her family if she agreed to do this. She was told to think about it and that they would return. She felt she’d been warned that spying was [the] only way she’s get out. She has been terrified ever since.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of spying against Iran in 2016. She denies the charges, with few outside Iran saying the Thomson Reuters Foundation project manager is guilty.

Despite being eligible for parole, Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, where she has complained of lack of medical treatment.

Her decision to undertake a 3-day hunger strike, in conjunction with similar action by Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who is also imprisoned and reportedly in need of urgent medical care, secured medical attention.

“It’s outrageous it’s had to come to this for Nazanin and Narges,” Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said in a release. “Nazanin and Narges are prisoners of conscience, forced to resort to desperate, life-endangering measures simply to get vital medical care.

“The Iranian authorities should stop playing cruel games with Nazanin and Narges and immediately release them. Pending their release, they should be allowed the medical care they urgently need.”

The wider political implications of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention increased following reports of the hunger strike, with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt summoning Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom to discuss the issue.

“Today I summoned the Iranian ambassador to demand Nazanin has immediate access to the health care she requires. Her ongoing detention is TOTALLY unacceptable and her treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities is a fundamental breach of human rights,” Hunt posted on Twitter, calling on Iran to “take action now.”

Iranian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Hamid Baeidinejad said the campaign to free Zahghari-Ratcliffe, which is being spearheaded by her husband, as “unhelpful.”

“The way he [Ratcliffe] is trying to politicise the matter and publicise it is not helpful… It is only making this more complex,”

Baeidinejad said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family hopes to convince the UK Foreign Ministry to grant her diplomatic protection, a process that would give the British government greater powers to assist her while making family visits more likely.

“We want the government to stop saying tough words and [start] making tough acts,” Ratcliffe said.

Diplomatic immunity would move Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention beyond the usual consular level and make it a state-to-state issue. In addition, six UN human rights experts have called on Tehran to take urgent action.

“We urge the [Iranian] government to immediately and unconditionally provide Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Narges Mohammadi with access to the appropriate treatment and care they have repeatedly requested in light of their serious health concerns,” a joint statement said.

The statement was signed by Dainius Puras, special rapporteur on the right to health; Diego Garcia-Sayan, rapporteur for independent judges and lawyers; Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture; Seong-Phil Hong, chair-rapporteur on the working group on arbitrary detentions; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on human rights defenders; and Javaid Rheman, special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

“The authorities must urgently address the violations that are the basis of their hunger strike protest,” the statement said, warning that if Tehran failed to do this, this could be considered “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture.”

The increased pressure on Iran comes at a time when Tehran is seeking to convince global partners, including the European Union to circumvent US sanctions after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last year. Tehran wants the remaining signatories to the nuclear agreement a special purpose vehicle to allow Iran to continue trading oil but many in Europe question why they should seek to assist Iran when it is demonstrating increasing intransigence.

“This is a brutal regime and we are seeing that with the denial of medical attention to Nazanin,” British MEP Margot Parker told Britain’s Daily Express newspaper, adding that she had called on the EU high representative and European Parliament to take a stronger stance to protect Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s rights.

“There comes a point when you have to stand up and be counted. The EU cannot hold the value of human rights if it is tied to the appalling misery and the shocking behaviour of the Iranian regime,” she said.

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