British-Iranian dual national in court to hear fresh charges of undermining Iranian state
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor- The Guardian
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has served four and a half years of her five-year first sentence. Photograph: Family handout/PA
The detained British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has avoided being sent back to jail after after appearing in court to hear fresh charges of undermining the Iranian state.
There had been fears that she would be sent back to Evin prison in Tehran but the hearing was adjourned before she could present her defence, her British-based family told her local MP, Tulip Siddiq.
No UK officials were present at the hearing, despite repeated requests from the UK Foreign Office.
Siddiq said: “It is hard to imagine the mental torture that being repeatedly threatened with a return to prison causes, and this awful situation is now being dragged out once again.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran since March when she was temporarily released in part due to the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.
She has served four and a half years of her five-year first sentence, and she has admitted to being terrified of being sent back to jail for another lengthy sentence. There was no new evidence in the file handed to her lawyers to justify the charges, according to her family. Informed last week that the second trial was to go ahead this week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been told to bring clothes with her since she would be returning to jail.
Her daughter, Gabriella, is with her husband, Richard, in London, who said: “This is a good first step, but it is not enough. The use of the court process as a negotiating tactic by the Revolutionary Guard remains deeply traumatic for Nazanin and the rest of us. We await the next escalation. We do not expect it to be kind”.
He also thanked the Foreign Office for taking a stand over its demand that she was not sent back to jail. The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, spoke to Zaghari Ratcliffe before the hearing,
The UK Foreign Office has said the fresh charges were unwarranted and that if she was sent back to jail, the basis of the Iranian-British relationship would change.
The political background to bringing Zaghari-Ratcliffe back to court appears to be a toughening of the position of the conservative factions before the US elections and Iran’s own presidential elections in June.
Over the weekend, the UK Foreign Office has been lobbying Iranian officials over Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but it appears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are determined to raise the pressure on the UK on what appears to be a new, tougher approach to dual nationals.
Nahid Taghavi, a 66-year-old German-Iranian architect, was arrested on 16 October and taken to Evin prison. Her daughter Mariam Claren on Monday tweeted an appeal for her release, saying her mother had been denied access to a lawyer and was being held in solitary confinement.
A French-Iranian academic, Fariba Adelkhah, is under house arrest in Tehran. She was sentenced to six years in prison on national security charges after being arrested in June last year.
Adelkhah’s French colleague and partner, Roland Marchal, who was detained along with her, was released in March in an apparent prisoner swap.
Marchal was freed after France released the Iranian engineer Jallal Rohollahnejad, who faced extradition to the US over accusations he violated US sanctions against Iran. The US state department said it deeply regretted the decision to free him.
An Australian academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, has reportedly been returned to Evin prison after being transferred to Qarchak prison, where she was visited by Australian consular officials on 19 October.
A second British-Iranian dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, 66, has been kept in prison throughout the coronavirus outbreak. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, spoke to Ashoori’s wife last week to reassure her he was making every effort to secure his release.
A third dual national whose identity cannot be revealed is also facing court proceedings. Tehran denied reports last week that two US detainees were set to be released.
At the Iranian foreign ministry weekly press briefing, the spokesman called on the UK to pay back the debt it owes to Iran arising from the UKL’s non-delivery of Chieftain tanks purchased by Iran in the 1970s. Saeed Khatibzadeh said: “We are pursuing the payment of this debt to Iran as soon as possible, and the origins of this debt and its beneficiaries are clear.”
A UK high court hearing due last week to hear Iranian claims for the UK to repay the debt was postponed at the instigation of the Iranians, according to the Ministry of Defence.