Call for Welby to intervene in Ratcliffe case

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury could be enlisted to help to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from an Iranian prison, an MP has suggested.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual Iranian-British citizen, was arrested in April last year during a holiday with her three-year-old daughter, Gabriella, to visit her family. She was later accused of plotting to overthrow the regime, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment (News, 24 June 2016).

The case drew attention two weeks ago when the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, during a parliamentary committee hearing, wrongly said that she was in Iran to train journalists.

His remarks have been seized on by the Iranian regime and used as evidence that she was not, as she has always insisted, simply on holiday in Iran, but was engaged in anti-government propaganda.

On Saturday, it was reported that prosecutors were considering reopening her case with fresh charges that would mean that her sentence could be doubled to ten years.

During her imprisonment, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been interrogated and hooded, often left in solitary confinement, and able to see her young daughter only during sporadic visits from her grandparents.

MPs have called on Mr Johnson both to apologise and to resign over his blunder, and have accused him of endangering the safety of a British citizen overseas.

The Foreign Secretary apologised on Monday, telling the House of Commons that he was sorry for the “the distress and anguish that has been caused to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family”.

Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative backbench MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, later asked Mr Johnson whether he would secure the help of those in Britain, including Archbishop Welby, who could talk to the “mullahs” in Iran.

“Would he consider calling upon people in our system who may be able to talk to the mullahs, perhaps asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed the Holy Father, to speak on behalf of this woman and seek to broker her release?” he asked.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being used as a “political football” in an internal dispute within Iran, between the powerful Revolutionary Guard and the religious establishment, Mr Tugendhat, a former army intelligence officer, suggested.

Mr Johnson said that “no stone will be left unturned” in the efforts to free her. Reports later suggested that the Government was considering granting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection: a formal escalation of the dispute with Iran.

Mr Johnson had agreed to meet with Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, this week, after which a press conference to outline the next steps in the campaign to free her was due to be held in Westminster.

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