The fate of dual UK-Iranian citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has recently hit the headlines again. Her scandalous incarceration in an Iranian prison continues, despite a 3-day release last month, which briefly and cruelly raised the hopes of her family. Nazanin’s sad story has become well known, her name instantly recognisable to many in Britain.
Nazanin was arrested in Tehran in 2016, as she was about to board a flight back to London, having visited her parents. The supposed reason for her arrest was initially unknown. What can only be described as a sham of a judicial process eventually unfolded and Nazanin was imprisoned for five years on trumped-up charges of plotting to topple the Iranian regime. Since then, she has been held in the notorious Evin prison in Iran. Her now four-year old daughter Gabriella, is also effectively a prisoner in Iran, forced to stay with her grandparents in a country she barely knows, so she can continue to see her mother. Meanwhile, Nazanin’s husband Richard, continues to head a brave and dignified campaign to release her from afar, back in London.
In the past several weeks, Nazanin’s case has captured media attention again – The BBC and The Independent’s Adam Forrest were among those who reported that she was granted an unexpected three-day furlough. It was hoped that this brief respite might turn into a lengthier, even permanent release. However, any hopes of such an outcome were cruelly dashed as Nazanin was forced back to her cell. It has since emerged that during her brief, three days of freedom, Nazanin’s father was deliberately intimidated by the Iranian authorities.
Nazanin’s plight is being given the attention such a blatant miscarriage of justice deserves. However, her case should come as no surprise. Nazanin is not the only one. As Sky News reported, at the same time as Nazanin was arrested, two other dual nationals and a foreigner were also apprehended – Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian retired university professor, Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, and Nizar Zakka, a permanent US resident from Lebanon. Iran is certainly no stranger to the brazen mistreatment of foreign nationals, especially those with dual citizenship, which the Iranian authorities do not recognise.
In fact, it is clear that dual nationals in particular are regarded by Iran as deeply suspicious, almost treacherous. Reuters reported in 2017, that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had arrested at least 30 dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage charges. Back to today and clearly nothing has changed. Last week, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi announced that tens of dual nationals had been successfully identified and arrested, on suspicion of spying in various government agencies. Tellingly, according to Al-Jazeera, Alavi added, “I have repeatedly asked people to inform us if they know any dual national.” In other words, Iran’s rulers have firmly fixed the cross hairs on foreigners, especially dual nationals.
This is the behaviour of a regime which is desperate, dangerous and despotic. Iran is in dire straits, facing an economic meltdown which is seemingly being accelerated by the re-imposition of US sanctions. But the Iranian people are not pointing the finger at Washington. Instead, they are bravely taking to the streets to protest against the real source of the problem – Their own government. They have even been heard to chant “death to the dictator,” in reference to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. So, where does the regime turn, in order to deflect blame? In the best tradition of autocracy, Tehran is inventing conspiracy theories, blaming foreign malevolence, in an attempt to rally the public against external forces. Foreign nationals and dual nationals in particular, are an easy target.
The foreign media is absolutely right to champion Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s cause. She and her family are suffering terribly. But journalists and editors must not give the impression that hers is an isolated case. There are many more like her. Nazanin is part of a concerted attempt by the Iranian government to make foreigners and dual nationals the sacrificial lamb for their own failure. Perhaps one of the most telling comments in recent days, has come from Nazanin’s husband Richard, who told The Guardian’s Robin McKie that “It is time for the Iranian government to protect its own citizens.” And that, is the point. Time and again, Tehran has demonstrated that it is uninterested in its own people, merely in maintaining power – Whatever the human cost. This is the real story behind Nazanin’s appalling treatment.