Boris Johnson is supposed to be getting Nazanin Ratcliffe out of an Iranian prison but his comments endanger her further

Suggesting Nazanin was ‘training journalists’ in Iran is false, unacceptable and puts her life at risk 

Peyvand Khorsandi
Thursday 02 November 2017 11:15 GMT
Nazanin Ratcliffe has been detained in an Iranian prison for over a year and a half
Nazanin Ratcliffe has been detained in an Iranian prison for over a year and a half (Getty)

“When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it,” Boris Johnson told a parliamentary select committee yesterday.

One year and half after the north London mum was arrested in Iran, a period in which she’s been subjected to solitary confinement, alleged torture and separation from her baby daughter, the Foreign Secretary hands a gift to her jailors by confirming their false claim that she had visited the country for anything but a holiday.

Teaching journalism covertly would be a serious crime in Iran – and the fact is it is simply not true as both her husband Richard and her employer Thomson Reuters Foundation have been at pains to point out.

If our first question to Boris Johnson is, “What took you so long to speak out?” in my opinion he has already answered it – he simply doesn’t care. Why else is he so phenomenally ignorant of the facts: Nazanin and her child were in Iran on holiday.

Not knowing this is a dereliction of duty that is costing a 38-year-old woman continued suffering.

Richard Ratcliffe is left to express gratitude to Johnson for finally acknowledging his wife and for finally agreeing to meet their MP, Tulip Siddiq.

He must surely be grateful that Johnson did not add: “Well, as I understand it, she might actually have been intelligence-gathering.”

Incompetence? Stupidity? Surely not malice – only Johnson can know. What is clear is that his reading of what Nazanin was doing in Iran is not true: there is nothing irregular about Nazanin having visited Iran in April 2016. She had done so before with her husband.

It is quite astonishing that nearly 600 days in prison, being served under a five year sentence that risks turning into 16 years, the British Foreign Secretary needs Nazanin’s advocates to first persuade him that she was really on holiday there, visiting her parents with her daughter.

Jailed in Iran: Richard Ratcliffe calls on the government to bring Nazanin home

Sadly, Johnson has repeated the UK ambassador to Iran’s assertion that there is a “humanitarian” case for her release – that is for criminals. She is not a criminal. It is a purely legal case. Johnson has clearly not bothered to read exiled lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi’s column for The Guardian, which says the Islamic Republic is breaking its own laws in keeping Nazanin

In response to a question, Johnson said he would be willing to visit Nazanin in prison – a move welcomed by her husband.

Indeed, that would be something – for the Iranians. For the UK Foreign Minister to drop in on Nazanin and then leave without her is only a sign of British impotence – it would be in no uncertain terms a humiliation for the UK.

Boris Johnson going to Iran would be to do only what every business man and diplomat is there to do: bow to the strongman of the Middle East in person, confirm its victory in Syria, and hope that the relationship stays strong.

Disagree? How useless would Bill Clinton have looked if he’d turned up, in 2009, to just visit the two US journalists doing 12 years of hard labour after having crossed into North Korean territory?

This is not day one. This is nearly day 600. What does Johnson plan to do? See Nazanin and then come back and tell us, “Oh, she doing jolly fine making handicrafts and playing Sudoku.”

Nobody is loving his Brexit more than the Iranians. It is just what they want. A weaker EU, and a weaker UK, without so much as lifting a finger. And a Foreign Secretary without the clout to demand the release of a woman being used – and abused – as a pawn.

Giving the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary guard the bizarre and untrue gift that Nazanin was “training journalists” is unacceptable and puts her life at risk. Ask Ahmadreza Djalali, the 45-year-old disaster medicine expert based in Stockholm who made the mistake of visiting his home country only to be accused of working with the Israelis – he is waiting to appeal his death sentence.

With Defence Secretary Michael Fallon apparently prompted to resign after allegedly sexually harassing women in and out of Parliament, perhaps Theresa May should step in to stop the abuse of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe at the hands of men seemingly without a conscience.

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