17:31, March 07 306 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-07 17:31:04
Foreign Office grants Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection

The Foreign Office (FCO) has escalated its conflict with Iran over the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by granting her diplomatic protection, a step that raises her case from a consular matter to the level of a dispute between the two states.

The move, likely to lead to increased tensions between the two countries, came after the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, judged Tehran was not meeting its human rights obligations to the British-Iranian dual national under international humanitarian law. She has been in a Tehran jail for three years, after being sentenced to five years for spying.

Hunt toughened his stance amid claims that the Iranians had spurned her request for better medical treatment, including regular access to drugs and to her own doctor.

Affording Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, a step advocated by campaign group Redress and her husband Richard for nearly two years, also means that from now on, an injury to her is viewed as an injury to the British state.

“We have not been able to secure her the medical treatment she urgently needs despite the assurances to the contrary,” Hunt said.

Admitting the step was “very unusual”, Hunt added: “I have not taken this decision lightly. I have considered the unacceptable treatment Nazanin has received over three years, including not just lack of access to medical treatment, but also lack of due process in proceedings brought against her”.

He said the step was a signal that “Tehran’s behaviour is totally wrong”.

He admitted “the measure is unlikely to be a magic wand that leads to an overnight result. But it demonstrates that Britain will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly”.

He added: “Iran was an ancient civilisation, but no government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage.”

The practical implication of such an elevation depends largely on how the FCO chooses to respond, but it could mean the case is raised on the international stage and in extremis, could lead to sanctions, and requests for reparations on the basis that Britain is the victim of an unlawful act.

The Foreign Office has been resisting campaigners’ calls for an escalation for more than two years, partly because it is a rare step to take on an individual consular case and partly due to fears it may have reverberations on wider British-Iranian relations.

The UK has recommitted itself to the Iran nuclear deal, but Tehran is frustrated that Europe has not done more to ease trade with Iran.

An Iranian-British dual national, Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on hunger strike for three days in January this year in an attempt to improve her treatment, but this week she wrote to Iranian authorities to claim promises of improved treatment have not materialised.

In a letter to Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, she complained she was “still being deprived of medical attention and from being sent to [outside] medical facilities. During the years that we have spent in prison, sending us to medical centres to [see] our doctors was a usual occurrence but, for unknown reasons, it is no longer done.

“Access to doctors, treatment and medication is the right of any human being and prisoners are no exception.”

She said repeated requests for better treatment have been ignored, adding that if anything happened to her or if her illnesses get worse, the responsibility would lie with the officials of the Islamic Republic.

She wrote the letter in a joint plea with another Iranian prisoner in Ervin prison, Narges Mohammadi.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in jail since April 2016. Her plight has been highlighted by an articulate campaign mounted by her husband Richard. Hunt also raised the issue with the Iranian foreign minister, Javed Zarif, on a visit to Tehran in December, but the FCO says its officials have been unable to access those in the revolutionary guard ultimately responsible for her fate.

The Iranians do not recogniseZaghari-Ratcliffe’s dual national status, and so do not formally recognise her right to be represented by Britain. There has been frustration among advocates such as Redress, that the FCO would not escalate the case.

Iranian officials insist she was arrested for spying and trying to overthrow the Tehran government.

Her four-year-old daughter remains with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s mother in Tehran.

Tulip Siddiq, the constituency MP for the Ratcliffe family, said: “For three years we have fought for the government to treat Nazanin as a British citizen in this dispute and now it is clear that they will. Iran must now do the right thing and free my constituent from her prison cell.

“Iran has violated numerous international human rights standards, including solitary confinement, no fair trial, denial of medical care and has threatened the Ratcliffe family.”