Show caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is reunited with her daughter Gabriella and husband Richard, as Liz Truss looks on, 17 March 2022. Photograph: Simon Dawson/No10 Downing Street HANDOUT/EPA Opinion My view of Liz Truss? She brought home my wife, Nazanin – then she failed her Richard Ratcliffe Those responsible for her imprisonment have still not been sanctioned, despite the Foreign Office knowing their identities Thu 21 Jul 2022 15.46 BST Share on Facebook
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As the race for a new prime minister reaches its final stages, many journalists have been asking me for comment on the leadership candidates. Most have been looking for a critique of Liz Truss and her campaign’s claim that she was the one who brought my wife Nazanin home after she had been imprisoned in Iran.
My answer is that she did. Despite me camping angrily on her doorstep, and our sometime fractious relationship, she delivered on her promise to us to get Nazanin home. After five foreign secretaries, that matters. She did the one thing everyone knew would work: she paid the UK’s debt. However, the way this was done had consequences for those left behind, a fact the government is reluctant to acknowledge. There is a continuing parliamentary inquiry that is trying to understand some of the decisions made.
Importantly, Truss made a second promise to me and Nazanin: that she would ensure hostage-taking didn’t pay. Behind closed doors we discussed how solving hostage-taking requires a carrot and stick: carrots to get people home, sticks to deter the hostage-takers.
Today in parliament, during a backbench business debate, the names of two of those involved in hostage-taking were revealed, with a call on the government to use one of the only “sticks” available: “Magnitsky sanctions”. The names came from evidence identifying 10 Iranian officials submitted to Truss last September, requesting that they be sanctioned for their role in Iran’s hostage industry.
Despite having had that file for nine months, Truss has not sanctioned these individuals. The Foreign Office regularly tells us it is still studying the file.
In those nine months, a number of these individuals known to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) played a key role in the continuing mistreatment of British citizens. As Chris Bryant MP, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, stated in parliament today, these included:
“Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour: a reporter with state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. She is known for eliciting forced confessions from prisoners in front of camera during interrogations. This is exactly the opposite of what a free media is all about. I understand that she was present at the airport prior to Nazanin’s release, attempting to interview and film her while she was being pressured to confess by the Iranian government.”
“The second person is Hossein Taeb: the former head of the intelligence operation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corporation. Under him, the IRGC intelligence runs the notorious section 2A of Evin prison. He has been responsible for the mass arrest and torture of hundreds of prisoners and been a driving force behind the IRGC’s hostage-taking. I understand that Taeb was instrumental in the continued detention of British citizens. I also understand that his officers enforced the last-minute, forced, and therefore fake confession of Nazanin, and subsequently blocked the furlough of other British nationals in defiance of what had been agreed with the United Kingdom.”
Maybe if the UK had sanctioned these officials last September they would have thought twice about continuing to abuse Nazanin and other British citizens left behind. There would have been clearer boundaries for Iran’s hostage business.
Government inaction always has a price. Bad things happen when governments look the other way – bad things with ripple effects.
During these past months Iran’s hostage diplomacy has escalated, with a new wave of European hostages coming to light. In some cases, they have been put on death row, as leverage. This escalation has seemingly prompted Belgium to ratify a prisoner swap treaty with Iran.
One reason for this escalation is surely that perpetrators face no consequences.
This may be changing in the US. This week President Biden announced an executive order declaring hostage diplomacy a national emergency, calling for sanctions against those taking US citizens hostage, and designating states where it occurs.
Again, the UK is falling behind its key ally. Unlike the US, the UK has seemingly been pretty sanguine about the torture and hostage-taking of its citizens. Advice to families is still to keep quiet, while the government wrings its hands publicly about how little it can do. The UK still resists recognising Nazanin as a hostage. FCDO officials still went along with her being forced to confess. We still await answers on who authorised this and why.
Politics has been a carousel recently. The swirling pace of the musical chairs means that some things don’t get seen, and the quiet stuff risks not being delivered. When politics becomes wrapped up in local pageants and fights, we lose sight of what’s on the horizon.
The quiet growth of hostage diplomacy is not unique to Iran, as recent actions by Russia demonstrate. We have been waiting almost a year for sanctions action. I am profoundly glad Truss settled the UK’s debt with Iran, but without accountability this risks creating the wrong incentives.
If we want to protect British citizens, we need to start deterring hostage-taking. The policy of quiet diplomacy is no longer viable.
Richard Ratcliffe is the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was held hostage in Iran between 2016 and 2022. He works as an accountant and lives in London with his wife and daughter Gabriella Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at [email protected]