Zaghari-Ratcliffe “innocent pawn” in UK-Iran power struggle, Bishop of Chelmsford says

NAZANIN ZAGHARI-RATCLIFFE and other binationals detained in Iran are “involved in a great injustice which they did not commit, in the face of which they are totally powerless,” said Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis- Dehqani.

Speaking during a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday, Dr Francis-Dehani said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a pawn in a political fight between Britain and Iran for more than £ 400million sterling owed to the Tehran regime.

“There are powers at play that can make change and right this terrible wrong,” she said. She urged the government to “unblock this insoluble situation by paying the debt owed, so that we” let justice flow like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream “.

Dr Francis-Dehqani, who was born in Iran and whose family sought refuge in Britain as a teenager (News, July 14, 2017), continued: “The British government has recognized that this country has a debt to Iran which is now 40 years behind. It is not ransom money; it is a long-standing obligation. Payment of this debt would demonstrate something crucial about how Britain chooses to play its part in the world, with integrity and decency, honesty and loyalty. If Britain fulfills its obligations, Iran must also act according to the best of its traditions, which exemplify beauty, honor, truth and respect.

She recalled how, during the 1970s, the Christian community in Iran, where her father, the late Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the first Anglican Iranian bishop, experienced intense persecution. Her father was jailed, her mother was injured in a stroke, and her brother was murdered.

“I have experienced firsthand the sting of injustice – an injustice born of being caught up in events that are bigger than us and in the face of which we are powerless,” she said. “I well remember the frightening experience of a hand hovering over my father’s as he went to pick up the phone while our house was searched by the authorities. It was a hand that kept him from calling for help as he watched helplessly as the house was ransacked and its belongings destroyed.

“None of this, however, left me bitter or ill-willed towards my homeland or my compatriots, far from it. I retain a deep love for Iran and its people, and a desire to work for reconciliation with those of other faiths and across all the divisions we create as human beings.

“Resolving this situation, this great injustice, to reunite a family that are innocent pawns in unrelated power struggles, requires the best of both civilizations involved.”

The debate was opened by Lord Collins of Highbury, who congratulated Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard on his campaign for his release, including a hunger strike last month outside the Foreign Office (News, November 5). “No one can fail to admire his determination and incredible determination,” said Lord Collins.

In March 2019, the UK government granted Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, saying this represented formal recognition that her treatment did not meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevated her to the rank of formal state-to-state problem.

During Theresa May’s tenure, at least six trips to Iran were made by five different ministers, in an attempt to resolve the case, but no minister went there under her successor.

“Nazanin’s diplomatic protection status means that his continued torture is a wound for the UK itself,” Lord Collins said. “What is the government doing to exercise diplomatic protection for Nazanin and challenge the fact that she was tortured? “

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