The British government has been accused of intentionally procrastinating over measures to advance the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, guided by fear of offending the Donald Trump administration, reports The Guardian.
Lawyers acting for the woman, who possesses both British and Iranian passports, have stated in a seven-page letter to defence secretary, Ben Wallace, that a meeting with him and his advisers at the “earliest convenience” is needed to discuss the issue of the debt owed to Iran that could facilitate the proceedings.
The United Kingdom owes Iran roughly £400 million ($490 million) for Chieftain tanks, which it sold to Tehran just before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, but never delivered.
In mid-March, the Iranian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, welcomed a revised stance by London toward the possible release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, speaking in an interview with Iran's Etemad newspaper. Previously, former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the repayment of the debt could not be considered a bargaining chip in the talks.
The legal team also deplored the UK efforts to secure release of dual nationals from jails in Tehran as much less effective than those of other countries – a charge that was reiterated in a BBC Panorama programme broadcast Monday night.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been under house arrest in Tehran since March, when she was given temporary release from prison after serving four years of a five-year sentence for alleged espionage. The woman was first arrested in Iran in April 2016 and has vehemently denied all charges.
The lawyers are reported as voicing their surprise that the UK government agency, International Military Services (IMS), “continues to raise every possible legal objection to payment of the debt and has plainly failed to engage in constructive dialogue with Tehran”.
The team substantiates their claim of the authorities’ disinclination to offend the Washington administration, saying a decision to defer the next court hearing on the debt until 4 November, after the US presidential election “in effect plays politics with the lives of British citizens”.
“The UK government is apparently waiting for implicit permission from the US government to pay the UK’s legally owed debts, payment of which would allow Nazanin (and other innocent British nationals) finally to come home,” says the letter, cited by the publication.
The lawyers point out that unlike the British authorities, the US has recently negotiated two prisoner swaps with Iran.
Warning the government against endangering the freedom of other British dual nationals, the letter concludes by urging the UK to honour its legal obligations to Iran, while calling out the Iranian government over its “illegal treatment of Nazanin under Iranian law”.
In response, the Ministry of Defence stated that it is committed to “securing the immediate and permanent release of all arbitrarily detained dual British nationals in Iran and regularly lobbies for their release at the highest levels. This includes through the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the British ambassador in Tehran.”