13:44, June 28 226 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-28 13:44:04
The Guardian view on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Iran must free her

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an entirely innocent woman who has been held on trumped-up charges of espionage in Iranian jails since 2016. She holds dual British and Iranian citizenship, which the Iranian government does not recognise. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has been on hunger strike immediately outside the Iranian embassy for the last fortnight, in solidarity with the hunger strike she is herself maintaining in Evin jail in Tehran. The Iranian ambassador has complained that this protest makes his work impossible – and if it does, so much the better. The resolution to this crisis lies entirely in Iranian hands. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be released and reunited with her family. But – while the blame for her arrest and imprisonment belongs squarely to the Iranian regime – successive British governments have made the situation harder to resolve.

Boris Johnson’s career as foreign secretary was undistinguished by anything except a lack of diplomacy but quite his worst gaffe was saying that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “teaching journalism” in Iran when in fact she had simply been on a family holiday. This helped the Iranian authorities to politicise the case against her, since independent journalism is a subversive activity in Iran, as elsewhere in the Middle East. The Iranian government did not need any encouragement to seize and jail Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe but Mr Johnson anyway gave them what he could. Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, has spoken out in support of her, and spent 40 minutes talking to Mr Ratcliffe outside the embassy earlier this week.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at the airport at the end of a family trip to take her then 22-month-old daughter to visit her grandparents. Gabriella, the daughter, is now five, and has not seen her father since. It seems one motive was to use Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a hostage against the British government’s reluctance to release £400m paid over to Britain by the shah’s government before his overthrow in 1979 as part of an arms deal that was never completed. For nearly 40 years, British governments have refused to hand over the money on grounds that look wholly specious. The Foreign Office is prepared to bow to the numerous court judgments in Iran’s favour but the Ministry of Defence claims that the money would only be spent on unsavoury military adventures. This is an excuse that is distasteful as well as risible in the light of the UK’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is causing immense civilian suffering. Releasing the money would be the right thing to do. It might also be expedient.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family are the entirely innocent victims of international power politics. Freeing her, and reuniting them, is the clear moral obligation of the Iranian government. The Zaghari-Ratcliffes have been on their hunger strikes, one in England and one in Tehran, for two weeks. It is past time to end their suffering with an act of justice and generosity.