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.


US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

Updated 12 December 2019

US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

  • Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him
  • If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week.
The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks.
But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it.
“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.
“The president was the first and best witness in this case. The president admitted to his wrongdoing and corrupt intent on national television,” Jayapal said. “The president is the smoking gun.”
Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.
“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.
Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.
“They don’t like us — that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponize the government.”
The committee is expected to approve the charges sometime on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House is likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.
Following the House vote, charges will go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.

QUICK TRIAL?
On Wednesday, the president and senior Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the idea of a shorter proceeding in that chamber.
After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Senate, Trump seemed to be leaning toward a streamlined affair that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.
Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.
But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.
“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.
Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”
Democrats say Trump endangered the US Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.
The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.
Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.
Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.
If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members