Did diplomats in Iran snub jailed Nazanin?
20 July, 2017 — By Tom Foot
Nazanin Ratcliffe pictured with her husband Richard
A GROUP of British diplomats took a tour of the notorious Iran prison where a West Hampstead charity worker is being held but did not go in to see her, Tulip Siddiq has revealed.
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Ms Siddiq has demanded ministerial answers about the consular visit to Evin prison earlier this year, where Nazanin Ratcliffe is serving a five-year prison sentence. She told a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday that a consular team sat “literally outside the cell exchanging pleasantries, drinking refreshments and taking photos”.
They did not go in to visit Ms Ratcliffe because the British government does not offer help to British detainees with dual citizenship – a rule Ms Siddiq wants to see changed. Ms Siddiq told the debate: “That is outrageous for our government to take part in a public relations stunt, in which diplomats go to Evin prison and take pictures at the very location where human rights abuses are taking place? I would like the minister to respond to that question. Will he ask for a full report from the embassy of Tehran, which was reinstated recently?”
Responding, the minister for the Middle East, Alastair Burt, said: “We considered very carefully the invitation to visit Evin prison earlier this month. The decision to participate in the tour was taken because we felt it would provide an opportunity to engage directly with prison authorities regarding the dual-national detainees. “Our consul repeatedly asked to see the British-Iranian detainees but was denied access. There are occasions when we are trapped if we do and trapped if we don’t.”
Ms Ratcliffe, a British citizen, went to visit family in Tehran with her daughter Gabriella, who was then two years old, also a British citizen. The mother and daughter were detained at the airport and the little girl was placed with her grandparents. Ms Ratcliffe was later sentenced to five years in prison, allegedly for plotting against the state. Her husband Richard has been campaigning tirelessly for her release since she was arrested last year and has set up an online petition, signed by more than 900,000 people.
Ms Siddiq told the debate that “at the end of the day, they are still British citizens, and we have to give them the respect and time they deserve”, adding that it was the government’s “shame” that it had “not echoed the calls for Nazanin’s release”. She spoke of a “shambolic process of secretive courts, secretive trials and secretive convictions” and how when “families speak to prisoners of conscience in Iran, the calls are heavily monitored”.
Ms Siddiq said: “On the weekends, Richard and Nazanin would take their daughter to play in a soft play area in the Sherriff Centre, opposite West Hampstead tube. They would play on the swings in a park in Fortune Green, near my house. “The biggest worry in their lives in the early months of last year was which school Gabriella would go to when she grew up. Their situation was not any different to many of the young families who live in my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn.”