Struan Stevenson: Smug, complacent gaffes by Johnson and Gove put life of British woman in Iran prison at risk

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove's smug, complacent remarks have put the life of British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, currently jailed in Iran, at risk, writes Struan Stevenson.

Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on holiday in Isfahan, Iran. (Picture: via PA)
Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on holiday in Isfahan, Iran. (Picture: via PA)

It seems incredible that yet another Cabinet Minister can commit a gaffe that could further endanger the life of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the 38-year-old British-Iranian woman, unjustly caged in Tehran’s hellhole Evin Prison.

Michael Gove’s comments on the BBC Andrew Marr Show that he didn’t know what Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been doing in Iran when she was arrested, has compounded the gaffe by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that she was in Iran ‘teaching journalists’.

Despite the Foreign Secretary’s subsequent grovelling explanation to the House of Commons, in which he said the British Government was quite clear that she had simply been in Iran on holiday and visiting her relatives, it seems that Gove could not bring himself to repeat this. Obsessed with Brexit and consumed by plots to undermine Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson and Gove seem to care little for the plight of a young mother held by the murderous Iranian regime.

Quick to seize on the comments by Johnson to justify their farcical imprisonment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian government has trumpeted Johnson’s earlier statement, claiming that this proved her guilt in being

involved in propaganda, espionage and attempts to overthrow the regime.

Gove’s comments to Andrew Marr will have reinforced their decision to haul the innocent charity worker before another court to add to her sentence. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has made frantic efforts to have his wife freed, disclosing that she is now desperately ill and suffering from extreme stress.

Their baby daughter Gabriella, who is a British citizen, has been forced to stay with her grandparents in Tehran since Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed.

Gabriella now can only speak Farsi, having forgotten all but a few English words.

Gove and Johnson should wake up to the predicament in which their smug, complacent remarks have placed Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Many women have been executed in Iran for lesser offences. Earlier this year Amnesty International published a 94-page report entitled “Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack”.

It detailed 45 specific instances of what the organisation has described as a “vicious crackdown” coinciding with the supposedly moderate presidency of Hassan Rouhani. The report detailed how the Iranian authorities have repeatedly diminished the standards by which they accuse and convict people for alleged national security crimes, while also increasing the severity of punishments that are meted out to those same people.

The abusive nature of those punishments was reinforced by new revelations that emerged alongside the Amnesty International report, mainly regarding the Islamic Republic’s notorious overuse of the death penalty.

Iran has long maintained world-leading rates of execution, and the violence and repression of the past few years have been reflected in a pattern of hangings that includes periodic spikes during which dozens of people are put to death in a single month.

Many of the hangings take place inside Evin Prison where Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held. This is the real Iran under the theocratic and fascist rule of the mullahs, whose so-called ‘moderate’ president Rouhani the West believes it can do deals with.

Rouhani is in charge of a venally corrupt government, which has executed more than 3,500 people since he took office in 2013, with in excess of 350 so far this year.

Gove and Johnson should also understand the true nature of the so-called justice system in Iran, where the current Justice Minister, Alireza Avaie, has been listed on EU and UK terrorist lists since 2011 for human rights violations.

Indeed Avaie, only appointed in July this year as Justice Minister by Rouhani, is notorious for his well-known role as public prosecutor in the city of Dezful in Iran’s Khuzestan Province in the late 1980s, when he was personally responsible for ordering the hanging of countless political prisoners, including many teenagers and students, for alleged opposition to the oppressive rule of the mullahs.

Johnson says that he now intends to travel to Tehran to make a case for the immediate release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He should first seek a comprehensive brief on the murderers and despots he will be dealing with in the Iranian government.

But there is little point in asking his officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for this brief.

Their policy of cringing appeasement of the mullah’s regime is why successive British governments have always placed trade and lucrative commercial contracts ahead of human rights.

Their arrogant and complacent approach to one of the world’s most cruel and tyrannical regimes is the main reason why Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been allowed to languish in Evin Prison for 19 months and also the main reason why successive Cabinet Ministers seem to be woefully ignorant of her plight.

Struan Stevenson, a former Conservative MEP for Scotland and ex-chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup, is president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.