In an interview with the BBC Arabic, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that the fate of British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is only in the hands of the Iranian Judiciary. He urged the British government to respect the “independence” of the judicial branch in the Islamic Republic. “It is very important that Britain recognize Iran’s judicial and political decisions. Iran’s judicial power is completely separate from the government. The judicial authority has its own case on this issue and we in the government can only act on the basis of humanitarian issues. And we are doing this,” Zarif added just before leaving Tehran for Turkey to attend a trilateral summit on the Syrian conflict with this Turkish and Russian counterparts.
Asked about harassment of BBC journalists in Iran, Zarif indirectly defended the Iranian authorities’ latest actions against foreign journalists and accused BBC Persian reporters of not abiding by journalistic standards.
In an unprecedented move last month, the BBC appealed to the United Nations to stop Tehran from harassing its Persian service personnel in London and their families inside Iran. The BBC complained that Iran has intensified a campaign of intimidation and arrests of its reporters’ family members.
Comment: Intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in April, 2016 on spurious “national security” charges when she was returning home from Tehran Airport. In late December that year, Iranian officials told her that she should either keep her toddler with her in jail or give up custody.
On January 22, 2017, the Iranian Judiciary confirmed that a Revolutionary Court in Tehran had upheld a five-year jail term for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker incarcerated in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i did not make public the specific charges against her, but called her a “security convict.”
IRGC officials have accused Zaghari-Ratcliffe of “executing media and online campaigns as a member of foreign organizations” to foment a “soft overthrow” of Iran’s Islamic regime – allegations she and her family have strenuously denied.
Her husband has claimed that the IRGC is using his wife as a “bargaining chip” to secure a decades-old £500 [$620] million debt for a tank deal from the British government.
The International Campaign for Human Rights, an independent US-based rights watchdog, has called on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to release Zaghari-Ratcliffee and end the practice of arresting dual nationals by IRGC intelligence operatives to “collect ransom money and demonstrate political muscle.”
The imprisonment of Zaghari-Ratcliffee appears to be yet another attempt by IRGC authorities to extort money from the West. They have also arrested several Iranian-Americans to use as a leverage for potential prisoner exchanges with Washington and extract political concessions and monetary ransom. In August, 2016, the Obama administration reluctantly conceded that it delayed a $400 million payment to Iran “to retain maximum leverage” and ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day. Many Republican lawmakers described the payment as a “ransom.”
Last December, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held talks with Iranian officials in Tehran in an effort to seek the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But his diplomatic efforts have yielded no results so far.