THE Government is doing all it can to help British-Iranian people languishing in Iranian prisons, the House of Commons heard this week.
The Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, acknowledged the “huge frustration at the lack of progress” in the cases of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Kamal Foroughi, and Roya Nobakht, but warned that there were “limitations on what we can do”.
He was responding to a debate instigated on Tuesday by Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, the constituency home of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained in Tehran last year (News, 24 June). Her husband has been unable to bring their two-year-old daughter back to the UK. Mr Foroughi, aged 78, was detained in 2011. Ms Nobakht was detained in 2013 after making a comment on Facebook.
After describing her constituent’s condition — doctors had recommended hospitalisation, and she had been suicidal — Ms Siddiq called on the Government to do “a lot more” to secure her release, and that of “all other prisoners of conscience who have been held in Iran for so long”.
“The Government, to their shame, have not echoed the calls for Nazanin’s release,” she said. Ministers had not met families, who had been “left in the dark”. She urged the Government to “bring the strongest possible pressure to bear on Iran to cease its pattern of arbitrary detention of dual nationals”.
Mr Burt said that he was sympathetic to her concerns, but sought to explain the British approach.
“Like everyone else, I wish to see all those mentioned today returned to their families and to the UK,” he said. “My responsibility and our responsibility is to work in the most effective way we can. . . I am not sure how much people would welcome me doing something that made life more difficult. That is the dilemma in which we find ourselves.”
He spoke of Iran’s “complex power structure” and said that what seemed “blindingly obvious” in the UK might not be understood by all in Iran. All the British nationals detained in Iran also held Iranian nationality, which means that Iran was not obliged to grant consular access. The issue had been a “priority” for him since his appointment last month, and he had already met with two of the affected families: “There is no intention to keep anyone in the dark about anything.”
He confirmed that the issue had been raised by the British ambassador, the Prime Minister, and other ministers, with their Iranian counterparts. Foreign Office travel advice warned of “potential risks” for British-Iranian dual nationals travelling to the country.
“The human-rights situation in Iran remains dire,” he said. “I am putting that on the record, so that we in this Chamber, and the Iranian government and the Iranian ambassador, who will read the account of the debate, will see it and know exactly what we mean. . . We are determined to continue to hold the Iranian government to account.”
To date, 261 MPs and peers have signed a letter seeking the release of the three.