Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces 16 years in an Iranian prison and our ambassador is not doing enough to help

If Nazanin was Anglo-Saxon, if her name was Jane Smith, she would be a household name and the British government would not be playing this appalling game with Tehran

Peyvand Khorsandi
Wednesday 11 October 2017 13:11 BST
British ambassador in Iran talks of imprisonment of dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Her Majesty’s chargé d’affaires to the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that illegally detained “dual nationals” should be released on “humanitarian grounds” – not the grounds that there are no grounds to detain the innocent in the first place.

Nicholas Hopton’s education at Cambridge and years serving as ambassador to Yemen and Qatar lead him to believe that 38-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be released by Iran on humanitarian grounds. This is the woman who was jailed without charge for a year and a half, issued a five-year sentence last year and is now facing a 16-year one, the woman whose parents have just had to pay a huge bail to keep her from being kept in solitary, separated from her daughter, who remains in Iran, and her husband Richard in London, who is denied a visa to visit her.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella (

Humanitarian grounds are those upon which Scotland released the Lockerbie bomber. He had bombed a plane and killed 270 people. Jailed in 2001, he was released in 2009 because it was believed the cancer he was suffering from left him with three months to live.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has killed no one. She has been and continues to be failed by politicians – and she is sadly being failed by our broadcasters as well. Yet again, Richard was forced on UK radio the other night to deny that she is a spy. (Quite why no broadcaster thinks to grill a Cabinet minister on the topic is a mystery – no UK official has even bothered to do Nazanin the favour of confirming that she was never spy, surely the first thing they would do if the Iranians had caught 007.)

Nazanin is being let down by both sides of two nations whose passports she holds. Britain expects Iran’s Shia Islamist ideologues to respond to shamefully limp lobbying – not even public demands – to release a woman they are torturing “on humanitarian grounds”.

As anyone at Amnesty International will tell you, the notion of humanitarian is somewhat lost on the Iranian government, the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guard.

“She deserves protection,” Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC. He should not have to tell ministers this, not after having been forced, again, after a year and a half, to assure a UK broadcaster that his wife is not a spy.

Nicholas Hopton evidently hasn’t got a clue what humanitarian grounds are, either. If his Twitter stream is anything to go by, Britain’s man in Tehran is simply there to encourage the Iranians to keep to the nuclear deal, help facilitate the signing of contracts and go to theatre shows and eat kebabs. He does not strike me as the sort who would clamour at the gates of Evin prison demanding to see the wretched “dual nationals”.

Ambassador Hopton – who sounds a bit like Rodney from Only Fools And Horses – stresses that Iran does not recognise dual nationality (watching his interview with BBC Persian it’s not clear who’s side he’s on). The sad fact is that it is also the British Government that does not recognise dual nationality, at least in the cases of Nazanin and the arbitrarily detained grandfather Kamal Foroughi.

If Nazanin was Anglo-Saxon, if her name was Jane Smith, she would be a household name and the British Government would not be playing this appalling game with Tehran.

Let’s face it, Nazanin is regarded as a native in trouble with her own by the UK Government – and the next journalist who courts assurance from her husband that she is not a spy.

Iran tests new medium-range missile despite Trump warnings

Hopton must be asked: what is this fixation on her dual national status? Let’s say she’s not British. She still has a life in London. If she weren’t British would we turn our heads away and say, “Sorry, you’re on your own darling”? She is being tortured. Her daughter is being brought up learning Persian which is not going to serve her in Hampstead where she belongs.

“Yes, charity may begin at home,” Theresa May said in her conference speech last week, “but our compassion is not limited to those who carry the same passport.”

These are important words that "Ambassador Rodney" should absorb. For Richard Ratcliffe is white, upper middle class, Anglo-Saxon and does not hold an Iranian passport – but has been also put in a position where he too is experiencing the full force of institutional racism. Even Del Boy would say at this point: "It’s not all about trade deals, Rodney, you plonker!"

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