The United Kingdom has given Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British charity worker jailed in Iran since 2016, diplomatic protection — effectively launching a legal case against the Islamic Republic.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he took the rare “important diplomatic step” after repeated attempts to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release and because she continues to be denied medical care. The measure is a formal acknowledgment that Iran has failed to honor its obligations under international law.

Hunt said he knew the decision would not be a “magic wand” that would automatically change the situation, but that it “demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent and that the UK will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly.” Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity Zaghari-Ratcliffe works for, said they “saluted” the foreign secretary’s decision and hoped it would “facilitate British embassy visits to our colleague Nazanin” and ensure she would receive the medical attention she urgently needs.  

According to legal advocacy group Redress, diplomatic protection allows a country to “obtain reparation for a legally wrongful act committed against one of its nationals” and” is based on the principle that an injury to a national is an injury to the state itself.” 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed in 2016 as she prepared to leave the country with her daughter Gabriella after visiting family. Since her incarceration, she has faced vague charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic. 

Redress brought her case before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in June 2016, and has appealed to the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. In January 2019, it called on Iran to provide urgent medical care for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow prisoner Narges Mohammadi.

When Hunt took steps to grant Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, he also spoke of Iran being one of “the oldest civilisations in the world” and said that many Iranians regard what Iran is doing as unjust and wrong. 

“No government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage, so I call on Iran to release this innocent woman so she can be reunited with her family,” he said. 

 

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