Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Request to the United Nations for urgent intervention

6 August 2021 – Following the latest breakdown of diplomatic negotiations with Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s legal team has asked the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to intervene urgently and engage both the UK and Iran on securing her release.

The request comes in anticipation of Nazanin’s appeal for her second conviction and sentence being scheduled by Iran’s Revolutionary Court.

The urgent action request and individual complaint, filed by REDRESS and Tatyana Eatwell and Tayyiba Bajwa, Doughty Street Chambers, requests that the WGAD implement its urgent action procedure following Iran’s prosecution of Nazanin for a second time.

The complaint seeks a second opinion from the WGAD, its first opinion on Nazanin’s case having been issued in 2016 shortly after her first conviction, which required Iran to release her, deeming her detention to be arbitrary and unlawful under international law. The UN body has never issued a second opinion in a case of arbitrary detention before. The complaint addresses the torture and ill-treatment of Nazanin that followed, her ongoing arbitrary detention, the second prosecution, and Iran’s practice of arbitrarily detaining foreign nationals for diplomatic leverage.

Nazanin’s second prosecution, like the first, is based on groundless charges, and presents a real and serious risk that Iran intends to arbitrarily detain Nazanin indefinitely as a means of exercising diplomatic leverage over the UK – in effect holding her hostage.

The open-endedness of Nazanin’s detention is emblematic of other Iran hostage cases, which carry distinct patterns of human rights abuses. The submission asks the WGAD to consider how the UN can tackle Iran’s practice of hostage-taking more broadly.  

In addition to transmitting an urgent appeal to the Government of Iran, the complaint also requests that the WGAD engage the UK Government on the steps it is taking to secure Nazanin’s release.

Nazanin’s original five-year sentence expired on 7 March 2021. However, a week later she was put on trial for a second unsubstantiated charge of “spreading propaganda against the regime” for which she was convicted and sentenced to a one-year prison term and additional one-year travel ban, resulting in a further two years she will be separated from her husband and daughter in the UK. She has lodged an appeal in Iran, but a court date has not been set. She remains trapped in Iran, pending the outcome of the appeal.  

The family fears that Nazanin now faces a further term of imprisonment and arbitrary detention in circumstances where her eventual release will not be determined by law or the length of her sentence, but by the will of those responsible for her continued cruel treatment.

The submission to the WGAD outlines the human rights abuses Nazanin has been subjected to during more than five years in Iran, the impact on her seven year-old daughter Gabriella, and a detailed history of the politics behind her detention, including in relation to the UK’s failure to pay an historic £400 million debt to Iran and reluctance to acknowledge or challenge the consequences for Nazanin and others.

Tatyana Eatwell, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers said:

“Nazanin has been subjected to arbitrary detention and prolonged ill-treatment amounting to torture. She and her family have been, and continue to be, arbitrarily denied their right to family life. Her daughter, Gabriella, who was just 22 months old when her ordeal began and is now 7 years old, has been arbitrarily separated from her mother for most of her life. This abuse, compounded by the threat of Nazanin’s return to Evin Prison, is an intolerable cruelty. It demonstrates a blatant disregard for Nazanin’s dignity, her well-being, and her rights.

Iran’s abusive conduct can only be addressed by the collective efforts of the international community. The Ottawa Declaration against Arbitrary Detention in State-to State Relations is welcome. But States must now take proactive steps to protect their citizens, including dual nationals, from this abusive practice and to ensure the implementation of effective international legal measures to prevent and put a stop to the abuse.”

Leanna Burnard, Legal Officer at REDRESS said:

“Nazanin is being punished for an ongoing dispute between Iran and the UK. She is innocent of the charges against her. We are asking the UN to ensure that the UK Government takes responsibility for securing her release by resolving any underlying diplomatic disputes without delay. In the face of Iran’s flagrant violations of international law, diplomatic intervention at the highest levels is critical. After more than five years, Iran’s torture of Nazanin must be stopped.”

The full press release can be accessed here.

Tatyana Eatwell and Tayyiba Bajwa act on behalf of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe, instructed by REDRESS.

The family are also assisted on other aspects of the case by Professor John Dugard SC, Associate Tenant, Doughty Street Chambers, and Alison Macdonald QC, Essex Court Chambers, also instructed by REDRESS.