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Britain must do more to bring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back from Iran Shirin Ebadi

October 17, 2017 ·  By www.theguardian.com

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, centre, protested last week in Parliament Square against the imprisonment. Photograph: Paul Davey / Barcroft Images

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, centre, protested last week in Parliament Square against the imprisonment. Photograph: Paul Davey / Barcroft Images

Last week in Iran, while most global attention focused on Donald Trump’s threat to shred the nuclear deal, new charges were brought against the British-Iranian charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Arrested last year while on holiday with her one-year-old, Nazanin faces 16 additional years behind bars. She is currently serving five years, accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime. The news comes just one month before she was eligible for early release.

Last month, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, attended the UN general assembly. He met with Theresa May, and openly called for a new era to end Iran’s isolation. His argument was clear: engage with Iran and new business opportunities will emerge.

A new era is something we would all like to see. Yet, as Nazanin’s story shows, there is something the international community must openly address: and that is basic human rights. Until Iran clearly and firmly upholds its laws, and protects its own and international citizens from the abuses committed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the world should be careful.

The Iranian vice-president was in London last week, shaking hands with the most powerful and stating the same case while Nazanin was spending yet another day locked up in Evin prison, held as a political prisoner. For more than 18 months she has been kept from her young daughter, half of it in solitary confinement. If her first trial seemed arbitrary, these sudden new charges without new evidence look political and suspicious in the extreme. Under Iranian law they also happen to be illegal.

Last month, I presented the UK government with a legal opinion outlining the numerous violations of Iran’s laws in Nazanin’s case. Her family have long complained that the UK has never acknowledged this abuse of her legal rights, and has stated that she is a dual national, governed by Iranian law. It is time to ditch this legal pretence.

On Friday, we sent this legal opinion to the Iranian embassy in London. Her family have asked to meet the Iranian ambassador, and called on him to speak out against this abuse of the legal system.

When Nazanin was first arrested, the officers did not present an arrest warrant, or give reasons for her arrest. They promised Nazanin they would release her after a few questions. Instead they blindfolded her and took her to an unknown location, where she was interrogated until she gave up her passwords for email and social media accounts.

Shortly afterwards she was transferred to Kerman prison, where she was kept in solitary confinement in a 2 metre x 3 metre cell lacking any light or ventilation. Keeping an individual in solitary confinement amounts to psychological torture. Blindfolding her was against the law.

She was interrogated extensively across three weeks with the promise that she would be given a suspended sentence and freed immediately if she “cooperated” – and threatened with heavy sentences if she did not. During the entire interrogation process, Nazanin did not have access to a lawyer. Confessions obtained through such methods are not permissible under Iranian law.

The trial was held in Iran’s revolutionary court. It was closed to the public, including to her family. The case was heard by judge Salavati, an individual listed on the EU’s sanctions list as a violator of human rights. Nazanin’s lawyer (whom she met just days before) was allowed to speak for five minutes; Nazanin was not allowed to say a word. She was sentenced to five years in prison for acting against Iran’s national security.

The evidence presented during the trial was illegal, as it was solely based on the revolutionary guard intelligence officers’ report. Under Iranian law, the guard corps does not have the right to arrest and interrogate. The intelligence ministry has jurisdiction for such cases.

Since the only “evidence” found against Nazanin was blatantly illegal, her lawyer argued she should be acquitted. The court simply ignored this fact.

To this day the Iranian authorities have provided no evidence that Nazanin has ever acted against Iran’s national security. This same “evidence” was used again last week for the second set of charges. Both Britain and Iran need to acknowledge that one of their citizens has been deprived of a fair trial and has been subject to abuses. The UK must act promptly with the Iranian government to end this mockery of justice.

Last Tuesday, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson tweeted his “serious concern” for dual-national detainees, including Nazanin. But actions speak louder than words. Mere concern is not enough. Nazanin needs to come home. The time for action is long overdue.

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