Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is back home, but the UK Government are failing another wrongly imprisoned British national - Richard Ratcliffe

This time last year I was camped outside the Foreign Office on a cold hunger strike over the UK Government’s failure to bring back my wife, Nazanin, from Iran.

A year on and Nazanin is now back at home. And I’m back on Whitehall protesting on behalf of another British national wrongly imprisoned abroad, who our Government is also failing.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Scottish blogger Jagtar Singh Johal’s abduction by Indian authorities while on his honeymoon. Jagtar was shopping with his wife when plain-clothed officers snatched him off the street. For ten days he was held incommunicado with no access to a lawyer, his family members, or a representative of the British High Commission. He was brutally tortured into signing a false ‘confession’.

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To date, the UK Government has not properly condemned this confession or acknowledged his torture. In our family, we have our own experience of how just how accommodating the UK can be of forced confessions extracted from its citizens, and the bewildering scars this leaves. At least, they called for Nazanin’s release, something they are yet to do for Jagtar.

Members of the Free Jaggi Now Campaign hand in a petition to 10 Downing Street, London. Picture: PA

United Nations experts have made clear Jagtar was targeted because he dared to speak out about human rights abuses committed against the Sikh community in India. On two of the trumped-up charges brought against him by Indian prosecutors in the wake of this forced confession, he faces being sentenced to death.

Just like Nazanin, the years have passed, with Jagtar abandoned in unimaginable prison conditions, and his family encouraged to keep quiet. All the while, the UK Government just seems to wait, and avoid any acknowledgement of abuse or injustice that would require it to act.

We found the Foreign Office’s approach like quicksand, promises to recognise and commitments to act so often seemed to sink away. Each time a foreign secretary acknowledged in Nazanin’s case that she was innocent or arbitrarily detained, or tortured, or granted diplomatic protection, it would disappear the moment the minister was replaced.

There were five foreign secretaries during Nazanin’s six-year imprisonment and this constant churn allowed the Department to wipe the slate clean each time a new person was briefed that the solution was to downplay the abuse and build a positive relationship with Iran.

Jagtar’s family have experienced that same heartbreak, but with another cruel dimension – they recently learned the UK’s intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 seem to have provided information to Indian authorities that enabled his abduction and torture. I watched the Government being questioned about this in Parliament. Ministers hid behind a court case to avoid giving straight answers, a strategy all too familiar in Nazanin’s case.

For me, the striking thing in the revelation was its coldness. For years Foreign Office officials have been holding Jagtar’s family’s hand and promising they are doing everything they can, when all along the Government appear to have been working with the abusers. The hardest betrayals are the ones that look you in the eye.

It resonated with the betrayals in Nazanin’s case: the complicity in false confessions, the promises unkept that made things worse, the odd accommodation of her second conviction and using Iran’s lines back at us to justify the UK’s inaction.

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It should not be like this. It is an approach that benefits no one to require your citizens to mount major publicity campaigns to get their Government to act. Discretionary protection is particularly unfair for those who struggle to get in the media, because they’re not middle class or English or as close to London as Nazanin’s husband.

There are about 100 cases a year of British citizens tortured abroad reported to the Foreign Office. Apart from Nazanin, how many have you heard of? It is welcome that some parties are now pledging to enshrine a right for Brits abroad to consular assistance in cases of torture and unfair imprisonment.

Jagtar’s family are not the only ones campaigning today. While we’re raising our voices outside Downing Street, the family of a British Egyptian writer, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, on hunger strike in prison in Egypt, are camped out in the cold just 100m from us, in the very same spot I was this time last year, urging action before it is too late. What has happened to British citizenship?

“Children begin by loving their parents,” Oscar Wilde once wrote, “After a while they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” The same is true with governments, for ordinary citizens in their hour of desperation, when they realize their Government is busy looking the other way.

I still shudder whenever I walk down Whitehall, past the spot where I spent so many weeks last winter. No family should ever have to go to such extremes to compel the UK Government to fulfil its basic duty to its own citizens, but we will keep pounding these pavements until the Government finally seeks Jagtar’s release and introduces protection for Brits from torture and abuse abroad.



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