’Broken up’: Father fights for wife’s release in Iran

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella in an undated photo handed out by her family. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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’Broken up’: Father fights for wife’s release in Iran

LONDON: A British accountant fighting for his wife’s release from an Iranian jail is now at the center of a diplomatic storm that has led to calls for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to resign.
More than 19 months since his wife was arrested at Tehran airport, Richard Ratcliffe told AFP that all he wanted was to be reunited with his wife and daughter in time for the holidays.
“The best case scenario is to get her home by Christmas,” said the softly-spoken 42-year-old.
Dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been jailed on sedition charges while her daughter Gabriella, now three, had her British passport confiscated and has since been living with her grandparents in Iran.
“We’re obviously a very truncated, broken up family at the moment,” said Ratcliffe, who speaks to his wife by phone and has Skype conversations with his daughter.
Via Skype “we can cuddle each other and share food and cups of tea,” he said.
National attention has fallen on his case in recent days, after Johnson last week said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran, comments which the Iranian judiciary has since used to justify her detention.
Her family and employer the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a media charity where she worked as a project manager, have insisted that she was on holiday in Iran.
Johnson has said his words were misinterpreted.
“Suddenly what is just our family’s story gets embroiled in much higher levels of politics, and (I’m) thinking, ‘gosh, I’m out of my depth here’,” said Ratcliffe.
An editorial in The Times on Friday said Johnson’s position was “vulnerable” and would become “untenable” if the Iranian judiciary were to use his remarks to justify further detention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

But Ratcliffe has refused to get involved in the scandal over Johnson’s remarks, keeping a measured tone in pushing for the British government to help secure her release.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April 2016 and initially spent months in solitary confinement but has been able to speak to her husband once a week since April this year.
She now also receives twice-weekly prison visits from their daughter.
“They colored in a picture of a reindeer at the last visit, because they’re talking about Christmas and going home for Christmas,” said Ratcliffe.
Gabriella, he explained, has requested a pair of red shoes from Father Christmas.
The little girl “barely” speaks English any more, her father said, except for the phrases: “Daddy I like you,” “See you tomorrow” and “I miss you.”
The family is now waiting to see whether Iranian authorities will approve Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s application for early release, which her husband said could happen in two weeks.
She is, however, facing further charges carrying a possible 16-year prison sentence, which her legal team is seeking to have quashed.
A new trial would put the family in a “much darker place,” Ratcliffe said.
But he remains hopeful that the momentum gained in recent days will lead to her release, and give his family the chance to make up for the time they have lost.
“We can’t get that back, what we can do is get her home as soon as possible and then rebuild that family unit and cherish what we will have again.”


Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

Updated 22 April 2018
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Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

  • Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora
  • Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do

AMMAN: Hundreds of staff who are paid salaries but do little work will lose their jobs in a major downsizing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

The restructuring is aimed at ending the duplication of tasks by the PLO and the Palestinian government, and reducing the size of the 700-member Palestine National Council, which is expected to lose half its staff and half its budget. 

Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora. Those that deal with refugees, planning, culture, media and the national fund will remain.

“Why do we need staff and offices in the PLO for such areas as social affairs and education, when we have major ministries in the government that are focusing on these areas?” Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Arab News. 

“When the PLO was responsible for all Palestinian affairs, this made sense, but now we have a government with relevant ministries and it doesn’t make sense to have such duplication.”

Most PLO staff belong to the various factions that make up the organization, and have been on the payroll for many years. This arrangement allowed these factions to provide jobs for their members. 

PLO sources told Arab News that the restructuring would also affect the Palestine National Council. The PNC holds occasional extraordinary meetings, but its full regular session scheduled for April 30 will be the first for 22 years.

Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do. “The membership of the PNC will have to be cut in half, as will its budget,” a PLO source said. 

Najeeb Qaddoumi, a PNC member and senior Fatah activist in Jordan, confirmed that a restructuring would take place on April 30 but denied that it would be downsizing. “Some departments might be eliminated and others might be boosted,” he said.

Ali Qleibo, an artist, author and lecturer at Al Quds University, said the PLO had “exhausted its role since Lebanon and has caused chaos in the land.”

The downsizing will surprise analysts who had expected the Palestinians to revitalize the PLO after the failure of the peace process and the lack of trust in the Palestinian Authority.