Boris urgently needs to put Nazanin and Kamal on his agenda
When Boris Johnson steps up to the mic at the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday, it will be the first time he’s set out his stall as Foreign Secretary to the party membership since he was appointed to the role back in July.
Boris’ speech sits under the daunting umbrella of ‘making a success of Brexit’ on the conference agenda – which sounds to me like a massive headache to sort out on a Sunday afternoon. And departure from the EU will likely be the talking point and media focus of Sunday and beyond – but it mustn’t obscure the other responsibilities of the Foreign Secretary, including upholding rights around the world and supporting UK citizens around the globe.
For a UK citizen mistreated by another state’s justice system, punished without knowing why, languishing in a prison cell, the UK Foreign Office – led by the Foreign Secretary – holds a lifeline to justice, reunion with their family and loved ones, and to home in the UK.
Boris will speak on the eve of an anniversary for one of those citizens: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Monday 3 October marks six months since Nazanin, a 37-year-old UK-Iranian media worker, headed to Tehran airport with her two-year-old daughter Gabriella, to catch a flight back home to the UK after a trip to Iran visiting Nazanin’s family. That was when she was approached by officials believed to be from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who arrested Nazanin on the spot and confiscated her daughter’s passport. The nightmare had begun.
Fast-forward six months and Nazanin now sits in a prison cell in Tehran. The Iranian authorities have refused to confirm Nazanin's sentence, but the judge informed Nazanin and her lawyer that she was sentenced to five years and Nazanin was then allowed to call her husband.
Separated from her toddler daughter and her husband, having endured a month and a half of solitary confinement, being punished in an opaque system where vital information – like the reason for her being there – is withheld… I imagine Monday is an anniversary Nazanin had not hoped she would experience.
Meanwhile, two-year-old British citizen Gabriella is marooned in Tehran (mercifully with her grandparents) without a passport – and she does not have duael citizenship. She is British. There are two members of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe who urgently need the Foreign Office’s help.
On Sunday, as the Foreign Secretary takes to the platform before his party and the country’s media, this is a real opportunity to show that he’s serious about standing up for the rights of UK citizens abroad – and he can start by speaking out for Nazanin, Gabriella, and Kamal Foroughi, another UK citizen imprisoned in Iran on vague charges with no evidence or explanation ever provided. Kamal, a grandfather in his late seventies, has spent almost 2,000 days in Evin prison and urgently needs cataracts operations on both eyes to avoid going blind. He has been eligible for release for over two years and keeps being told he is about to be released, but never is.
Last month, Theresa May’s office said she’d ‘raised concerns’ over Iran’s treatment of Nazanin and other British nationals with the Iranian Prime Minister. A welcome move, and now it’s time for the Foreign Office to make sure that Nazanin and Kamal really do have representation in Iran. Today, Nazanin’s husband is calling on Boris to ‘raise his game’ and say that detaining British citizens in this way, including a mother and baby, is simply wrong. The British Government should not allow its citizens to be treated like this.
It seems there is room for diplomatic manoeuvre with Iran – on Monday, the academic and Canadian-Iranian dual national Homa Hoodfar was released apparently following diplomatic talks orchestrated by Canadian officials to secure her release. The Canadian government had spoken out about Homa Hoodfar, in contrast to the UK “softly-softly” approach.
All the more critical then that the Foreign Secretary steps in and urgently speaks out on the cases of Nazanin and Kamal. Right now, their prison cells must feel like pretty lonely places without UK government support.
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