Surely enough is enough - we must get Nazanin home, whatever the complexities - Christine Jardine

Imagine that there is someone who desperately needs your help, you want to give it but there is a completely avoidable problem which is taking all your time, energy and resources.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen, has now been detained in Iran for more than five years. PIC: Contributed.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen, has now been detained in Iran for more than five years. PIC: Contributed.

That is how it has often felt in parliament over this past couple of weeks.

While MPs struggled to untangle the mess created by Boris Johnston’s botched attempt to shift the goalposts on the code of conduct, a much more deserving case was struggling to be heard.

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And it represents a more real, and important conflict of demands on our time than the self-motivated, earnings related argument going on in the parliamentary chamber.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen, has now been detained in Iran for more than five years.

She is currently under house arrest at her mother’s but may have to return to prison after her appeal against a second sentence for allegedly taking part in a protest in London 12 years ago failed this week.

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Her young daughter is being forced to grow up here in the UK without her, and her husband Richard has been driven to the point of collapse in his attempt to get justice for his wife.

His three week hunger strike on the pavement outside the Foreign Office was halted to protect his health.

In itself it is a heart-breaking story of a family caught up in an international dispute, but it is also the very starkest of reminders that an MP’s time is a valuable commodity to be invested wisely.

While we have spent hours dealing with a government created debacle over their attempts to protect a rule breaking MP, it has been clear from my correspondence just how my constituents in Edinburgh West would rather my time spent.

My inbox has been dominated by entreaties to help the Radcliffes. Free Nazanin and reunite her with her husband and daughter.

I first met Richard Radcliffe more the two years ago during his first hunger strike, staged on the doorstep of the Iranian Embassy in London.

His love for, and commitment to his wife was inspirational. That was unchanged when I visited him during his second protest over recent weeks, this time outside the Foreign Office in Whitehall.

But I found my own reaction this time more difficult.

Since I was elected in 2017 three Foreign Secretaries have failed to bring Nazanin home.

One of them, the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arguably undermined her claim for justice with misguided comments about why she was in Iran.

A fourth Secretary of State, Liz Truss, is now charged with finding a solution and we see no evidence to date to suggest that she will be successful.

That timetable of failure was why I found my second meeting so difficult.

Walking along the pavement towards Richard, seeing him chatting animatedly with parliamentary colleagues, in front of makeshift sleeping arrangements I was overcome by a mixture of guilt and frustration.

How have we failed this family so badly? Could we have given their plight more of our time and attention?

What can we say to reassure, offer him hope after all these failures?

This week Nazanin and Richard’s MP Tulip Siddique, secured a debate calling for action on her plight.

She has universal support in the Commons.

One of those former Foreign Secretaries who had tried to fight the Radcliffe’s corner, Jeremy Hunt, also had the opportunity to challenge the Prime Minister directly on the need for action during questions at a parliamentary committee.

He suggested that perhaps the time had come to repay the debt which Iran says it is owed over tanks paid for but not delivered in 1979 regardless of complications over current sanctions.

He asked: “…if you cannot use a bank to repay it, for various reasons, why can’t we do what President Obama did in January 2016, and fly over a crate of cash to Tehran and just repay that debt?”.

The Prime Minister, with perhaps less bluster than usual, pointed to the complexities of the situation and the sensitivities around other UK nationals imprisoned in Iran as problematic factors.

In media coverage of this week’s developments Richard Radcliffe appeared on television not from some comfortable armchair at home, but hooked up to the medical drip that was a consequence of his relentless campaign for justice for his wife.

Surely enough is enough. If the Government will not go down the Obama route then surely the current Foreign Secretary must now begin the process of introducing targeted sanctions.

With Nazanin’s health deteriorating and her family in distress, strong words are far from enough.

A medical evaluation early in the year, carried out for the human rights charity Redress, found Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive stress disorder due to "traumatising experiences in the prisons of Iran" and the uncertainty about her fate.

She needs real action now to get her home.

It is a basic principle of democracy that the safety of its citizens should be one of a government’s first priorities. Regardless of where in the world they might be.

Richard Ratcliffe has not seen his wife in person since she was arrested in 2016, and the couple’s daughter who was with her mother when that happened has been back in the UK since 2019.

This week, when questioning the Prime Minister, Jeremy Hunt told him that Nazanin is able to see TV under house arrest and asked whether he had any message for her, any hope that she might be home soon.

The Prime Minister expressed both his horror at the situation and admiration for Nazanin, but added: “It is not easy. If I could tell Nazanin now that we’d have her home for Christmas, I certainly would. It breaks my heart that I can’t make that promise, but we will continue to do what we can.”

One promise we all hope this Prime Minister could fulfill.

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