UK MPs urge Boris Johnson to get 'properly' involved in release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

UK MPs urge Boris Johnson to get 'properly' involved in release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
UK MPs have criticised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for not visiting Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe a British citizen detained in Iran, on his hunger strike.
3 min read
16 November, 2021
Richard Ratcliffe has accused the government of being opaque over securing Nazanin's release [source: Getty]

Dozens of UK politicians have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get directly involved in securing the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen detained in Iran​​​​​​. 

MPs from across the political spectrum agreed at the debate that UK government failures have obstructed the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as well as other British citizens such as Anoosheh Ashoori. 

Lawmakers, including Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP Tulip Siddiq, called on Johnson to ensure the release of British citizens and criticised him for not visiting Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin, who was on hunger strike outside the Foreign Office for 21 days. 

"I'm very disappointed to say that in the three weeks Richard was outside the Foreign Office starving himself, the Prime Minister of our country did not come to visit him," said Siddiq, who represents Hampstead and Kilburn in north London. 

"I do think it's high time the PM got involved properly knowing the details of this case." 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily detained in Iran for almost six years, in which time there have been five UK Foreign Secretaries - including current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Johnson was slammed in the Westminister debate on Tuesday because of comments he made as FM saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "teaching journalism" - words the Iranian government used against the British charity worker as evidence for her continued detainment. 

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Zaghari-Ratcliffe was originally given a five-year jail term but was slapped with a second sentence earlier this year.

The British-Iranian national's family, including her now seven-year-old daughter, fear she will have to return to prison after being on furlough in Iran. 

Another minister at the Westminister debate was former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

Hunt said the UK’s £400 million debt linked to the detention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and of Ashoori - a retired British engineer detained in Iran since 2017 - should be paid to Iran. 

"If this was ransom money, heartbreaking though it is, we should not pay it," said Hunt. 

"But this is not ransom money, it is a historical debt that we owe to Iran," he added. 

The debt was accrued when Iran bought and paid for in advance large-scale tanks from the British. After the 1970s Iranian revolution, the vehicles never arrived but the UK kept the money. 

Richard Ratcliffe and Sherry Azadi, the wife of Ashoori, have urged the UK to pay the debt. 

Minister for the Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, who was present at the Westminister debate, said: "The UK government continues to work tirelessly to secure [Nazanin’s] full permanent release and the ability to return home."

He said the charges against her were "baseless" and that the UK would "react strongly" if she was returned to prison. 

Cleverly said the UK government "recognises there is a duty to pay the debt and we will do all we can to explore all legal options to do so".

However, when asked, the MENA minister was unable to give a timetable for when the sum could be and would be paid.