The family of Iranian-British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has learned that she is due in court again, and that a decision on her case will be reached shortly.
The news emerged a day before a meeting between the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European officials in Brussels. It reinforces previous concerns that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being used as a bargaining chip or a tool of pressure between the UK and Iran.
The development also comes in the aftermath of President Trump’s announcement that the United States will abandon the nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sent considerable shockwaves across the country. At the same time, despite UK Prime Minister Theresa May's reassurances to President Rouhani that the UK remains committed to the JCPOA, the UK’s business community has expressed concern about future relations between the two countries and has rushed to protect its interests in Iran.
On May 11, Iranian news agencies Nameh News and Pars News reported that the judiciary had re-opened the second case against Zaghari-Ratcliffe. On May 13, her father went to the prosecutor’s office to clarify the situation.
According to a press release from the Free Nazanin campaign, the prosecutor confirmed the information and said the judiciary would come to a decision within the next week. He advised Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s father not to tell her husband until a decision was reached, and to avoid media coverage. Her father agreed, but on the morning of May 14, Zaghari-Ratcliffe called her husband Richard Ratcliffe and insisted that the information be made public. She told him: “I have no clue why they have started all this nonsense again. They know Boris is coming. Please take me out of this, please. My parents have had enough. I want my daughter back. She needs both of us. So tell the world. Enough of this nonsense.”
UK Debt and Nazanin as a Bargaining Chip
Over the last six months, there have been reports that her release is dependent on the payment of a decades-long debt a UK Ministry of Defence-affiliated company owes the Iranian government. The case is currently under arbitration in the UK court system. The recent arrests of two dual nationals and one Iranian with residency in the UK are also thought to be linked this debt. Iran’s Judge Abbasi has described some of these hostages as a “good capture.” Aras Amiri, an Iranian student with residency in the UK, was arrested in March, and news of the arrest of Iranian-British academic and activist Addas Edalat followed in April. On April 30, IranWire and other media outlets reported that Mahan Abedin, a British-Iranian dual national, had been arrested. He is thought to have since been released, but there has been no official confirmation.
The Free Nazanin Campaign and Nazanin’s husband have called on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to prioritize Nazanin’s release, and have warned it several times that its continued refusal to pay or address the debt Iran says the UK owes it is endangering UK citizens in Iran. However, the Foreign Office has simply replied that it will not "provide a running commentary” on the cases of dual nationals held in Iran.
Speaking to IranWire, Richard Ratcliffe recalled a somewhat different climate between the UK and Iran during the Foreign Secretary's trip to Iran in December 2017. Although relations were not necessarily smooth, there was renewed hope that the UK would settle the debt and was showing "good will."
Ratcliffe described Iranian officials — and the country's hardline press — as being "very frustrated" by the fact the UK has refused to settle the debt. "They haven't paid, and now three more people are detained."
Solidarity in a Difficult Climate
In light of the recent news, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held on vague charges of espionage and plotting to overthrow the regime since April 2016, wrote to the judiciary’s spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei on May 14, stating that the recent announcement that she was being sent back to the court directly contradicts official statements given to the UN, in which officials said there was no plausible case against her.
Richard Ratcliffe says his wife has had support from some fellow political prisoners, and that they both believe that the sympathy several Iranian officials and prison authorities have expressed with her situation is genuine. But the prison climate is changeable, and he said there were definitely "tensions" on the ward. "My understanding is that solidarity is hard as an Iranian concept. People deliberately try not to join together and get in trouble."
"The dynamics change depending on who's in the cells. There are some people she's very close with, but there are probably tensions in the ward at the moment between those who are more reformist and those who are less so."
On October 8, authorities informed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe that the Revolutionary Guards had opened a new case against her, and that she could face an additional 16 years in jail. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Tehran in December, and promised Nazanin’s family that he would “leave no stone unturned” in his efforts to secure her release. However, the Free Nazanin campaign continues to urge the government to do more on her behalf, and has expressed astonishment that it has not done more.