ON APRIL 3, 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Tehran as she was about to board a flight to London. She has been held in prison in Iran ever since. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born in Iran but is married to a Briton.
By Stephen Pollard
She lives in London, holds dual citizenship and has a daughter, Gabriella, who was with her on a visit to her parents. Gabriella has remained in Tehran since her mother’s arrest. Her case has become a cause célèbre. A project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters news agency, she was convicted in September 2016 of spying and plotting to topple the Iranian government.
Her supposed crime was described by the prosecutor general of Tehran in 2017 as running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran”.
It is important to note that she was on holiday when she was arrested, not working – and in any case was no longer working for the BBC.
The Iranians say they do not recognise her British nationality so have rejected any British consular activities designed to help her.
To date, despite lots of diplomatic huffing, puffing and then soft-speaking, we have not been able to help her in any significant way.
Yesterday’s decision by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to designate her as the subject of “diplomatic protection” is unprecedented in living memory, since it elevates her case to a state-to-state issue.
But if anyone thinks this is likely to lead to sudden progress, they will be sorely disappointed.
At its most basic level, this appalling story is a human tragedy.
An innocent woman has been imprisoned by a barbaric regime on trumped-up charges. A family has been ripped apart. We should never forget that human story.
But Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s story also illustrates something far bigger which has lessons and consequences for all of us.
It illustrates the cynicism and depravity of the Iranian regime – a bunch of crooks and fanatics who have injected more poison and instability into the world than any other nation on Earth.
Who holds power in Iran is a complex question but essentially it is exercised by the mullahs under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini on his death in 1989) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was established to preserve the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ideals of the 1979 revolution.
There is an elected government, with which we have diplomatic relations, but it is in reality subservient to the mullahs and the IRGC.
The IRGC operates an extensive military-industrial-financial complex which is built on extortion, oppression, the black market, drugs and terrorism. It is a sort of quasi-theocratic mafia cartel.
One estimate puts the Iranian black market at $140billion, about 36 percent of Iran’s entire economy.
The IRGC controls Iran’s roads, sea, air and land borders and has developed an extensive network outside Iran.
Smuggling is in its DNA. It uses this network to traffic drugs, utilising Iran’s long border with Pakistan and Afghanistan and its close ties to cartels in South and Central America.
It is also the world’s leading exporter of terrorism, supplying funds and weapons to Iraqi insurgents, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups worldwide, as well as backing Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held as a hostage by a group that uses extortion as a basic operations tool.The IRGC have been open about this with her.
She is reported to have been told by judges (controlled by the IRGC) that she will be freed if the British government repays a £300million debt.
In 1976, the Shah of Iran paid for hundreds of Chieftain tanks but after the 1979 revolution most were never supplied.
Iran won its court case for the money, which in 2002 was paid into a frozen bank account where it has remained amid arguments over interest and the legality of giving it to Iran while sanctions were imposed.
Both the Iranian and the UK governments deny that this money is in any way a factor in Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment.
But these denials are essentially meaningless because the Iranian foreign ministry and President Hassan Rouhani, with whom we have diplomatic relations, are separate entities from the IRGC.
The IRGC is a law unto itself.
The devastating truth is that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an innocent woman being used as a pawn by an unscrupulous, amoral mafiosi group.