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Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘innocent pawn’ in UK-Iran power struggle, says Bishop of Chelmsford

03 December 2021


The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, speaks in the House of Lords, on Thursday

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, speaks in the House of Lords, on Thursday

THE imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual-nationals detained in Iran are “embroiled in a great injustice not of their own making, in the face of which they are utterly powerless”, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, has said.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday, Dr Francis-Dehani said that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a pawn in a political struggle between Britain and Iran over £400 million owed to the Tehran regime.

“There are powers at play that can effect change and right this terrible wrong,” she said. She urged the Government to “unlock this intractable situation by paying the debt owed, so that we ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’.”

Dr Francis-Dehqani, who was born in Iran and whose family sought refuge in Britain when she was a teenager (News, 14 July 2017), continued: “The British Government have acknowledged that this country owes a debt to Iran that is now 40 years overdue. This is not ransom money; it is a longstanding obligation. The payment of this debt would demonstrate something crucial about how Britain chooses to play her part in the world, with integrity and decency, honesty and trustworthiness. If Britain fulfils her obligations, Iran, too, must act from the best of her traditions, which exemplify beauty, honour, truth, and respect.”

She recalled how, during the 1970s, the Christian community in Iran, where her father, the late Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the first Iranian Anglican bishop, experienced intense persecution. Her father was imprisoned, her mother was injured in an attack, and her brother was murdered.

“I have experienced first-hand the sting of injustice — injustice born of being caught up in events that are bigger than we are and in the face of which we are powerless,” she said. “I remember well the chilling experience of a hand hovering over my father’s as he went to pick up the phone while our home was being raided by the authorities. It was a hand that prevented him calling for assistance as he helplessly watched the house being ransacked and his belongings destroyed.

“None of this, however, has left me bitter or with ill will towards my homeland or my countryfolk — far from it. I retain a deep love for Iran and her people, and a desire to work for reconciliation with those of other faiths and across all the divides that we create as human beings.

“Resolving this situation, this great injustice, to reunite a family who are innocent pawns in power struggles that have nothing to do with them requires the best of both civilisations involved.”

The debate was opened by Lord Collins of Highbury, who praised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, for his campaign to get her freed, including a hunger- strike last month outside the Foreign Office (News, 5 November). “No one can fail to admire his determination and incredible resolve,” Lord Collins said.

In March 2019, the UK Government gave Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, saying that it represented formal recognition that her treatment failed to meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevated it to a formal state-to-state issue.

During Theresa May’s premiership, at least six trips to Iran were undertaken by five different ministers, in an effort to resolve the case, but no minister has gone there under her successor.

“Nazanin’s status of diplomatic protection means that her ongoing torture is an injury to the United Kingdom itself,” Lord Collins said. “What are the Government doing to exercise diplomatic protection for Nazanin and to challenge the fact that she has been tortured?”

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