Iran ambassador should be summoned ‘every day’ until Zaghari-Ratcliffe released: UK lawmaker

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured with her husband Richard, has been in jail for 800 days, having been sentenced to five years after she was accused of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. (AP Photo)
Updated 12 June 2018

Iran ambassador should be summoned ‘every day’ until Zaghari-Ratcliffe released: UK lawmaker

  • Foreign secretary should summon Tehran’s diplomat over detention of British-Iranian, says Lord Cormack.
  • Supporters held a vigil Monday outside the Foreign Office in London, lighting 800 candles for every day the 40-year-old charity worker has spent in prison.

LONDON: Iran’s ambassador in London should be made to go to the Foreign Office every day that British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains incarcerated, a UK lawmaker said Tuesday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in jail for 800 days, having been sentenced to five years after she was accused of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK Parliament, Lord Cormack asked why Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “does not summon the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office every day until Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is released.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied the charges against her and was denied temporary release to celebrate her daughter Gabriella’s fourth birthday on Monday. Instead, Gabriella had to spend her birthday in jail with her mother.

Supporters held a vigil on Monday outside the Foreign Office in London, lighting 800 candles for every day the 40-year-old charity worker has spent in prison.

Responding to Lord Cormack, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a Foreign Office minister, said no opportunity was missed to raise the issue but that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s continued incarceration was not the ambassador’s decision. “Those calls are made in Tehran,” he said.

“The situation in terms of human rights — and I speak as a human rights minister — is dire, not just for the people of other nationalities or indeed joint nationalities but for Iranians themselves.”

Iran does not recognize the concept of dual nationality — a fact which has caused immense problems for journalists working for the BBC’s Persian service, most of whom also hold dual nationality. This issue was also raised at the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Iranian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the entire staff of 152 people working for the BBC Persian service, accusing them of crimes against national security.

Tehran has for years allegedly used blackmail and intimidation to harass both the BBC staff and their relatives and associates. The BBC said 20 families of its Persian service staff have received death threats over the past nine years and 86 family members have been called in for questioning by Iranian intelligence agents.

In a video compiled by the BBC, one journalist said her parents’ passports had been canceled, meaning they could not visit her in the UK and another said she was denied permission to see her dying father.

Another female journalist said Iranian agents had threatened to spread rumors about her sex life and disseminate pictures. They had also used the same tactic against men.

The BBC has appealed to the UN to intervene to stop the harassment.

Lord Ahmad on Tuesday told the House of Lords that many BBC staff and their families had suffered hardship because their assets had been frozen.

“We raised the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Council in March and several times with counterparts in the Iranian Foreign Ministry,” he said. “Alastair Burt, minister for Middle East, also raised it on April 29 and we continue to implore upon (sic) the Iranian authorities.”

The subject was introduced into the Lords’ debate on Tuesday by Lord Michael Grade, a former chairman of the BBC.

Twelve million people in Iran listen to the Persian service, which he said was a vital source of impartial news.

The continued targeting of BBC staff was “a very serious state of affairs,” said Lord Grade.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead asked what the British government was doing to ensure the BBC employees under investigation would receive better treatment than Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Lord Ahmad said that “we are concerned about the charges and wider activities of the Iranian authorities toward the BBC staff and continue to raise it with them.”

The BBC did not respond to a request for comment on the debate.


German court convicts Syrian over stabbing that triggered Chemnitz riots

Updated 11 min 53 sec ago

German court convicts Syrian over stabbing that triggered Chemnitz riots

  • The 24-year-old Syrian, identified only as Alaa S, according to German rules, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years
  • It is almost exactly a year since the stabbing which led to thousands of right-wingers marching through Chemnitz and clashing with left-wingers and police

DRESDEN, Germany: A German court sentenced a Syrian asylum seeker to nine-and-a-half years in prison on Thursday over the fatal stabbing of a man in the eastern city of Chemnitz last year that triggered the worst far-right riots Germany had seen for decades.
The verdict handed down in the city of Dresden in the high profile case comes barely a week before elections in the region in which the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make big gains. The AfD welcomed the verdict.
It is almost exactly a year since the stabbing which led to thousands of right-wingers, including neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans, marching through Chemnitz and clashing with left-wingers and police.
Images of skinheads or far-right demonstrators chasing migrants, performing the Hitler salute and attacking a Jewish restaurant, raised questions about how Germany should deal with its far-right, especially after the 2015-16 migrant crisis.
The 24-year-old Syrian, identified only as Alaa S, according to German rules, was convicted of manslaughter. The Cuban-German victim, Daniel Hillig, died of his injuries after being stabbed in Chemnitz on the sidelines of a local festival.
The Syrian was also convicted of inflicting serious bodily harm on another victim, Dimitri M, who was injured but survived.
“The accused was today found guilty of joint manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. He has therefore been sentenced to a jail term of nine years and six months,” a spokeswoman for the court said.
Prosecutors had called for a 10-year prison sentence.
Defense lawyers, who had called for their client to be acquitted, argued there was no evidence that their client had helped stab the victim and said they would appeal.
German authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant for an Iraqi suspect who has been on the run since the incident. They believe he was the main culprit in the killing.
The AfD said on Facebook it hoped the Iraqi suspect would be found soon and added that Chemnitz had been unfairly “branded as a playground for right-wing radicals.”
“No verdict will return Daniel H to his family and friends but at least it brings some justice in a reality that claims new victims every week,” it said.
Opinion polls show that the AfD could become the biggest party in the two eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg, which hold elections on Sept. 1.
The trial took place in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state rather than in nearby Chemnitz because of the high level of public interest in the case.