The Guardian report is critical of the UK government’s response to this situation. Although Richard Ratcliffe has very publicly advocated for his wife’s release, drawing the attention of a number of human rights organizations in the process, the government has remained conspicuously silent. Although Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has reportedly been mentioned on the sidelines of other meetings between the two governments, the UK leadership has not made public calls for her release, and has not publicly decried the apparently false accusations against her.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest was accompanied by accusations that she was “one of the leaders” of an infiltration network that seeks to facilitate the “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. But no evidence of this has been presented, and it is widely assumed that she was targeted simply on the basis of her British citizenship and her connections with the West, including through her employer the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Her husband has described the Iranian government’s accusations as preposterous, and many reports on her situation have pointed out that the Thomson Reuters Foundation does not even do any work in Iran, making it extremely difficult to imagine how Zaghari-Ratcliffe could head an infiltration network in a country she only occasionally visited. The notion that her charges are falsified is reinforced by the fact that she is just one of numerous Western nationals who have been targeted by hardline Iranian authorities, especially after last year’s nuclear agreement.
The Guardian report points out that none of those arrestees who hold UK citizenship or permanent resident status have been released so far this year. By contrast, five US citizens and two Canadians have been released, thanks in large part to pressure from the relevant national governments. In light of this, non-governmental organizations are strongly urging the UK government to exert similar pressure, and even to go further by attempting to take Islamic Republic leaders to the International Criminal Court.
This course of action was made especially feasible after the human rights group known as Redress presented Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and convinced them to affirm that the situation violates the international covenant on civil and political rights.
With the additional leverage of this commentary, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s advocates find it unacceptable that she remains in prison with the UK government taking remarkably little action to address her case. The Guardian points out that Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian anthropology professor who was taken prisoner around the same time as Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was recently released in spite of the fact that Canada has no consular relations with Iran, and Britain does.
But it is possibly precisely because of these different levels of diplomatic relations that the Canadian government has recently proven more amenable to exerting pressure on Tehran. Indeed, at least where the Canadian parliament in concerned, this pressure has not been limited to the Hoodfar case but has also included calls for a United Nations inquiry into past human rights abuses, namely the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, which was only recently acknowledged by the Iranian regime.
These sorts of past abuses could be seen as highlighting the importance of acting quickly to secure the freedom of dual nationals like Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Iran’s pattern of prisoner abuse and misapplication of the death penalty puts political prisoners of all stripes in greater danger, the longer they remain in Iranian jails. And one need not look back to the 1988 massacre to see the reality of this danger. Some current or recently released prisoners are keen to make known their own sufferings under the Iranian judicial system.
This fact was reported on Thursday by Front Page Mag, which published an article featuring quotations from Ajab Gol Nour Zehi, a prisoner who has experienced extensive torture at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other hardline authorities. He detailed being beaten with cables and stabbed on the soles of his feet, being hung from the ceiling, and being left with fractures and holes in his flesh. Zehi also explained that when the torture caused him to lose consciousness, he would be given medical attention until he recovered, only to have the torture resume immediately.
The article points out that this and many other prisoners bear severe scars on their bodies, which would serve as definitive proof of Iran’s human rights violations, if the matter were independently investigated. Such investigation is certain to be difficult, since the Islamic Republic has barred the UN special rapporteur on Iran human rights from visiting the country, and has established punishments for people who speak to him remotely. But despite these additional threats, Front Page Mag insists that “victims are speaking out now about their heinous treatment in an attempt to gain the attention of UN officials.”
If their stories do reach relevant international authorities, it could be grounds for additional criminal prosecution of Iranian leaders, alongside the cases already being advocated with regard to the 1988 massacre and the arrests of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and others. But Iran’s human rights abuses are already widely known; what is needed apart from awareness is political will, and the Guardian article suggests that among the UK and other Western governments, it is clear that that will has lately been lacking.