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
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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.


Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

Updated 24 February 2019
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Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

  • Prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism”
  • Manafort is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case
WASHINGTON: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed Saturday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the US says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.