Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Persian: نازنین زاغری رتکلیف) is a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years imprisonment "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime."
The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was being held for running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".
Arrest and trial
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Canadian news agency Thomson Reuters' charitable arm, travelled to Iran on 17 March 2016 to visit her family for Nowruz (Iranian New Year) with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella. On 3 April 2016, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard arrested her at the Imam Khomeini Airport as she and daughter were about to board a flight back to the UK. Her daughter's British passport was confiscated during the arrest, but later returned, and she remains in Iran under the care of her maternal grandparents so she can visit her mother.
The exact reason for her arrest was initially unclear, though according to Amnesty International it is believed related to the 2014 imprisonment of several Iranian technology news website employees. Zaghari-Ratcliffe used to work for the international charity the BBC World Service Trust (now called BBC Media Action), which provided training courses to Iranian citizen journalists and bloggers, some of whom were convicted in 2014 and sentenced to up to 11 years in jail for participating in the foreign training course. The head of Kerman province's justice department, Ali Tavakoli, said they had participated in projects run by the BBC and received funds from London:
This gang was running a number of projects and plans for anti-revolutionary Iranians based abroad, especially for the BBC Persian, under the guise of legitimate activities. Financial aid for this group was usually provided from London under the pretext of charitable donations. The director of the team was an individual who has served the BBC as a mentor and teacher in a number of countries such as Malaysia, India and Afghanistan and his travels to these countries were paid for by British intelligence services.
Nazanin worked for the BBC World Service Trust between February 2009 and October 2010, "in a junior capacity as a Training Assistant" according to the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, before moving to Thomson Reuters Foundation. BBC Media Action described her role as "junior and purely administrative".
According to Yadollah Movahed, the head of the Justice Department in the Iranian city of Kerman, and as reported by the Iranian news network Press TV, Nazanin was arrested "over her involvement in post-election riots that engulfed Tehran and some other cities in 2009". Movahed said Zaghari was among the suspects who "conducted activities against the security of the country by designing websites and carrying out campaigns in the media” during 2009. According to Movahed, Nazanin was not arrested for activity inside Iran or for activity during her 2016 holiday to Iran: “Some members of the group were outside Iran, including the suspect Nazanin Zaghari”.
According to Press TV in June 2016 "The CGRI headquarters in Kerman province announced that Nazanin Zaghari had been identified after a large intelligence operation. She was one of the liaison officers of networks hostile to Iran abroad. According to this source, she was responsible for several missions, and conducted her criminal activities under the direction of media and intelligence services of foreign governments."
In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years in prison "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime." The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was imprisoned for running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".
On 1 November 2017, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said "When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit." These remarks appear to have put her at risk and have been denounced by politicians across the spectrum including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, leading to calls for Boris Johnson to be sacked. A central part of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's defence was that she was there on a holiday and never worked to train journalists in the country. Her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, called on Johnson to "immediately correct the serious mistake he made" in this statement. They added "She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thompson Reuters Foundation". Four days later, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in Iran where the Foreign Secretary's statement was cited as evidence against her.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was thought likely to appear in court again on 10 December 2017 to face additional charges relating to her work for the BBC World Service Trust, however Iranian court officials released a statement that no new charges had been raised and these reports were false. Boris Johnson visited Tehran on 9 December 2017, raising the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
On 7 May 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe launched an online petition urging both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Iran's Supreme Leader to take appropriate action to secure the safe return of his wife and daughter Gabriella. Ratcliffe's petition has been signed by over 1.5 million supporters in over 155 countries.
In February 2018 her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that he believed her release was dependent on the interest rate on a £450 million debt the UK has owed to Iran since the 1970s for a cancelled arms deal. Both the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the British Foreign Office denied this, with the British Foreign Office stating:
This is a longstanding case and relates to contracts signed over 40 years ago with the pre-revolution Iranian regime. We and the Iranians reject any idea the two issues are linked. Funding to settle the debt was paid to the High Court by the Treasury and the International Military Services in 2002. Iran's Ministry of Defence remains subject to EU sanctions.
On 23 August 2018, Nazanin was released on temporary licence for three days, which is standard practice prior to lengthier releases.
The United Nations has on several occasions called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. On 7 October 2016, the United Nations rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed called on Iran to immediately release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The call was repeated by Mr. Shaheed's successor a year later. On 21 October 2017, Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, called on Iran to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe and said, "We consider that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated… These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law". The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had also formally called for her immediate release in its Opinion 28/2016 adopted in August 2016.
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