07172019What's Hot:

For Foreigners Imprisoned by Iran, an Uncertain Plight

When a British-Iranian charity worker was abruptly released from a Tehran prison last week on a three-day leave and allowed to see her daughter, joy erupted among supporters in Britain, where her case has received extraordinary attention.

But when her request for an extension was denied, the elation turned to despair and anger. Then on Wednesday, the prisoner collapsed and was hospitalized over what her husband described as recurrent panic attacks.

The plight of the prisoner, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 40-year-old representative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in Iran more than two years ago, is not unique. Critics of Iran’s opaque judicial system say foreign citizens — particularly Britons and Americans of Iranian descent — are often subject to capricious prosecution on vaguely defined political offenses.

Here are some questions and answers about Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and some other high-profile foreign citizens known to be incarcerated in Iran.

Why was she arrested?

Iranian officials have never been clear about precisely why Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual citizen, was taken into custody, but her connections to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which promotes freedom of expression, may have something to do with it.

She was arrested on April 3, 2016, after visiting family members in Iran, where she was traveling with her daughter, Gabriella, then 22 months old. Agents of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps took her into custody as she and Gabriella were about to board a flight home to Britain, and the child was placed in the custody of her maternal grandparents.

A few months later, state-run media said Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been implicated in “plans for regime change” and in “cyber and media projects to cause the soft toppling of the Islamic Republic.”

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her family, the British government and the Thomson Reuters Foundation all dismissed the accusations as ludicrous. But on Sept. 6, 2016, she was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on charges that remain secret.

By then, an online petition for her release, started by her husband, Richard, a Briton, had collected 800,000 signatures. As of Wednesday, more than 1.9 million people had signed it.

Britain’s new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has made the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case a priority since taking over from Boris Johnson, who resigned last month. “We must redouble efforts to find a way to get her home,” he said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Why has the case struck such a nerve?

Part of the answer lies in the circumstances of Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest — especially her separation from her young daughter. Her husband has been unable to claim custody of Gabriella because the Iranian authorities have impounded her British passport.

Mr. Ratcliffe has waged an aggressive campaign to publicize the case. A website called Free Nazanin has chronicled every step of her ordeal. It published photographs of Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s three-day furlough last weekend with her daughter, including the moment they bid farewell.

“I think it feels like the physical symptoms of crushing disappointment since she went back into prison,” he was quoted as saying.

In a video interview posted by The Evening Standard, Mr. Ratcliffe said her return to prison had been so agonizing that “in some ways she wished she had never been allowed out.”

What is the outlook for her release?

That is unclear, and it may partly depend on broader issues between Britain and Iran that have nothing to do with Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Britain is widely held in suspicion by Iran’s leaders as an accomplice of the United States, which they regard as their main adversary.

Still, Britain not only has maintained diplomatic relations with Iran but also has sought to preserve the 2015 nuclear agreement easing economic sanctions, which has been repudiated by President Trump.

Iranian officials, enraged by the Trump administration’s actions, have been pressing Britain and other European nations to compensate for the American pullout from the accord. On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on his website that he was ready to abandon the accord “if it fails to fulfill our national interests.”

While British officials have pleaded for Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, some have begun to take a more confrontational stand.

“Britain should not be tolerating any idea that we will accept the arbitrary detention of British citizens abroad,” said Tulip Siddiq, the Labour Party member of Parliament who represents the London district where the family lives.

In an opinion column published by The Independent, Ms. Siddiq said Britain should offer Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, so that “any harm caused to Nazanin would be taken as harm to the British state.”

What about the other cases?

While Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment has received more attention in the past few days, a number of other cases are also contributing to tensions between Iran and other countries.

The incarceration of some Americans on vaguely defined charges has only worsened the animosity between Iran and the United States, particularly since Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord.

The most prominent cases are the imprisonments of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student convicted of espionage while doing doctoral research, and Baquer and Siamak Namazi, a father and son convicted of collaborating with a hostile power — meaning the United States.

Mr. Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, who has increasingly sought to publicize his plight while raising their young son alone, met last Friday with the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, and expressed thanks on Twitter “for all the efforts to bring Xiyue home.”

In a telephone interview on Wednesday from Princeton, she described Ms. Haley as “very genuine” and said the ambassador “agreed the detainee issue should have more attention.”

There has been recurrent speculation that Iran might be willing to release the Americans in exchange for a corresponding release of Iranians it says have been wrongly incarcerated by the United States.

The Trump administration has said it wants Iran to free all Americans and other foreign prisoners held on false accusations. Mr. Trump also said late last month that he would meet with Iranian leaders “any time they want.”

But with Ayatollah Khamenei having publicly forbid subordinates to engage with the United States, the prospects for direct discussions remain unclear at best.

Source: NYT > World

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic