Geoffrey Robertson QC slams May government’s ‘supine’ inaction over British citizen held in Iran without charge

Geoffrey Robertson QC

A human rights barrister has called on the UK authorities to do something about a British citizen who has been held in Iran without charge – for five months.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held without charge since early April after being arrested by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as she was about to board a flight back to the UK and has not been allowed access to a lawyer. Her two-year-old daughter is with her grandparents in Iran.

In The Times today, Geoffrey Robertson QChead of Doughty Street Chambers writes about the May government’s “abject failure” to protest against the treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter.

He writes: “She has been imprisoned for five months, and contrary to international law, British consular officials have been denied any access to her. It might be expected that the UK government would make the most strenuous protests: carpeting the ambassador, looking at the question of sanctions, demanding safe conduct so her husband can visit, enlisting support from countries with friendlier relations with Iran, and so on. But not a whimper has emanated from Downing Street. The FCO says that the embassy in Tehran is doing what it can — when the truth is that it can do nothing, as the refusals of consular visits attest.

“What is required now is a denunciation of Iran’s conduct by the prime minister and the strongest diplomatic protest from the foreign secretary. Yesterday’s FCO statement mentioned that the case had been raised with the Iranians by David Cameron, but tellingly made no mention of any action by Mrs May. She is uncharacteristically silent and Boris Johnson is busy splashing around in the Mediterranean. Never in my experience has a British government been more supine when its nationals have, in effect, been taken hostage. A sign that our government does not care about human rights — even those of British citizens?”

Foreign Office spokesman told The Times: “We continue to raise our strong concerns about British prisoners in Iran, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels in both London and Tehran.

“We are deeply concerned by recent reports that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been charged but has not been allowed to see a lawyer. We have been supporting her family since we were first made aware of her arrest, and minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has met them personally to reassure them that we will continue to do all we can. We remain ready to facilitate Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter’s return to the UK if requested.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been accused of involvement in a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic as well as being the ringleader of a number of organisations linked to foreign intelligence – allegations her husband said are false. She is being held in the notorious Evin prison after initially being put in solitary confinement.