A dispute between Iran and the United Kingdom has led to the continued detention of Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian judge has said.
The judge told the Iranian-British charity worker that the two sides had been unable to come to an agreement on the interest rate used to calculate the value of a long-standing debt, and that this was the main reason she had not been released. His claim reiterates similar comments by Iran's deputy prosecutor.
After requesting a meeting with Judge Abbasi, who is largely responsible for granting prisoners temporary leave from prison, Zaghari-Ratcliffe met with him on February 21. Her lawyer was not allowed to accompany her to the meeting. When her family visited her in prison soon after, she relayed what happened during the meeting.
She said after initially avoiding her questions, the judge confirmed that the reason she had not been released was linked to an unpaid debt to Iran by the UK.
Judge Abbasi told her: “The British have accepted to pay the historic debt, but there is still a dispute over calculating the interest rate. It is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is finalizing with the UK the calculation of the interest owed on the debt.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after a visit with her family. While in prison, she has been subjected to psychological abuse at the hands of several Iranian agencies, including state media, which have run sustained propaganda campaigns against her. She has been held in solitary confinement, and had to attend trials that do not conform to normal standards for Iranian judicial hearings. She has also been denied temporary leave, which is routinely given to most prisoners in Iran.
House Arrest out of the Question
Zaghari-Ratcliffe told Judge Abbasi that if she could not be freed, she should be given temporary leave, or furlough. The judge said the Revolutionary Guards were concerned that she would try to leave the country — despite the fact that Iranian officials have confiscated her passport — or to stay out of prison until it is time for her conditional release.
Just prior to February 11, the anniversary of the Islamic Republic she and her family were told separately that the judiciary had closed her case and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was now in charge of her release.
On February 21, Judge Abbasi offered Zaghari-Ratcliffe an alternative: Living under house arrest with her daughter Gabriella. She said he raised the option several times during their meeting. But she dismissed the option, telling the judge that authorities will be “ashamed if they are still keeping me in prison for the beginning of a third year. That is why they suggest this now.” Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has also said this is not an acceptable option. “I have promised Nazanin I will not let her daughter go into a secure house with armed guards. That would be some kind of placebo release. It would be the equivalent to putting both of them in prison.”
During their meeting, Nazanin spoke to Judge Abbasi about the inhumane way she and her daughter had been treated. The judge agreed with her: “You are right. I have nothing to defend myself. There have been many injustices in your case, from the beginning until now, and I apologize for them. I have done my best to send you on furlough or conditional release.” Nazanin told her family he apologized more than once during their meeting and that she thanked him for it.
Deputy Foreign Minister on UK Visit
On the same day Nazanin met with Judge Abbasi, Richard Ratcliffe delivered a letter for the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi at the Iranian embassy in London. In the letter, Ratcliffe asked for a meeting with Araghchi during his time in the UK in order to gain an understanding why the Foreign Ministry was handling his wife’s case, and why it was stalling on her release. Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi was due to speak about Iran’s foreign policy priorities at the UK’s international affairs think tank Chatham House the next day, Thursday, February 22.
In a statement, Richard Ratcliffe accused both the UK and Iranian governments of “being wrapped up in the bubble of negotiations over international affairs, risking an atrophy of real lives.” He added that, after his wife’s long imprisonment, it was time to put an end to this atrophy. “This has gone on long enough.”
And the Ratcliffes' MP, Tulip Siddiq, said she hoped the campaign for her release was on the “verge of a real breakthrough,” and that the UK Foreign Secretary could bring an end to her constituent’s arbitrary and illegal detention after almost two years.