UK rejects plea for ambassador to visit Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran | News

The Foreign Office has rejected a plea from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for the British ambassador to Iran to visit her in an act of solidarity before Tehran decides whether to return her to jail.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyers told the Foreign Office it was “essential the embassy show her support at a frightening time”. In a letter to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, the lawyers described the Foreign Office’s stance as one of “timid inaction and indecision”.

Sentenced to five years in jail in 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been on furlough at her parent’s home in Tehran since March after a coronavirus outbreak in Iran’s jails. She has been put on a tag and had been hoping that her release would be the first stage to her clemency, but she fears she will be returned to jail for an indefinite period. She contacted the prosecutor’s office at the weekend, as required by the government, and was given no news about her fate.

In the letter to Raab, lawyers for Zaghari-Ratcliffe point out that his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, had unusually granted her diplomatic protection in March 2019. The lawyers ask what that protection entails if the ambassador, Rob Macaire, refuses her request to see her in her home. It is understood that the Foreign Office believes a visit would be counter-productive.

The letter dated 13 May says a “personal visit from the British ambassador in Tehran is long overdue,” adding that such a move “is entirely appropriate and to be expected for an individual in respect of whom diplomatic protection has been invoked by the UK government, owing in large part to Iran’s abuse of Nazanin’s human rights and denial of the UK’s right to consular visits.”

The lawyers say: “There is also a serious risk that, if this opportunity is squandered and Nazanin is taken back into prison, she will be the target of yet more exploitation and political posturing, including the reinstatement of her second court case and a new sentence of up to five further years of imprisonment.

“As Nazanin told the embassy directly, the UK government must not presume that she will be released once her five-year sentence has been completed. If she is put back in prison at this point, it will signify that she will be held, not for a few more months, but for several more years.”

The letter continues: “She is an innocent British citizen whose rights will be protected by the UK government and whose inhumane treatment at the hands of Iran will no longer be tolerated. You sending your ambassador to visit her after four years’ wait would embody that message.”

The lawyers point out that when Hunt granted her diplomatic protection, he said the move “demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent, and the UK will not stand idly by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly … No government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage.”

Raab has not rescinded the diplomatic protection, but appears to have adopted a less public posture over her case.

It is understood that the Foreign Office believes an intervention by the UK ambassador would anger the Iranian government, but Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyers say: “The UK does not need to ask Iran’s permission to visit Nazanin, and should not be afraid of acting when it is able to because of threats by the [Iranian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Iran insists it has brought its coronavirus outbreak under control, even though the figures for new infections have risen sharply in the past week. The health ministry says new cases are mild, pointing to the relatively low number of new daily recorded deaths

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘We are in contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family and will continue to make decisions in line with what we believe will produce the best outcome.”

The Foreign Office asserts it has consistently requested access to dual nationals but Iran does not allow consular access. The Zaghari-Ratcliffe family say this restriction on seeing dual nationals does not apply to individuals on furlough.

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