Families of Iran ‘hostages’ demand UN action

Iran and other states have been emboldened by failure to respond to detention of innocent travellers, says new group

A handout picture released by the Free Nazanin campaign on August 23, 2018 shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) embracing her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran following her release from prison for three days. - Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been in prison in Tehran for more than two years on sedition charges, has been released for three days, her husband said today. (Photo by - / Free Nazanin campaign / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVE
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The failure to tackle Iran over the jailing of innocent foreign nationals has emboldened other countries to follow suit, an alliance of families will say today.

The international community has allowed the practice to “fester and even escalate” because it has not challenged the clerical regime, the group said.

It said condemnation of attacks on shipping and oil facilities was not matched by rights abuses of their own nationals.

Fourteen foreign and dual nationals are known to be detained in Iran, said the US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran, although the number is thought to be higher with some governments discouraging families from publicising cases.

Prisoners have experienced prolonged solitary confinement and faced secret trials before being used as bargaining chips in their dealings with other nations, the centre said.

The alliance is launched today as some family members of detainees embark on their latest attempt to speak with President Hassan Rouhani when he attends the UN General Assembly.

Iran has been emboldened to expand the programme with “increasingly provocative arrests” of photogenic tourists, academics and mothers with young babies, said Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

She has been detained for more than three years on what her family says are trumped-up charges of espionage.

“Iran has not been called to account,” Mr Ratcliffe said. “Hostage diplomacy has no place in the modern world.

“At what point will the international community acknowledge state hostage taking has become a security threat? If anything, Iran’s success is starting to be copied by other states.”

It was not immediately clear to which states he was referring and he was not immediately available for comment.

Mr Ratcliffe is attending his fourth UN General Assembly in an attempt to speak to senior officials as he has been barred from entering Iran since his wife was detained in April 2016.

The Families Alliance against State Hostage Taking includes former hostages such as Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman freed after four years in prison in June, and Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor who was released in 2016.

They also include family members of people who remain detained such as Babak Namazi, whose brother and father are both detained in Iran, and Vida Mehrannia, whose husband Dr Ahmadreza Djalali, an expert in disaster medicine, was sentenced to death in Iran in February.

Jasmin Ramsey, of the centre, said that US efforts to secure the release of its nationals was hampered by not having formal diplomatic relations with Iran.

“The countries that do have leverage need to pick up the ball on this, and that’s particularly the European countries,” Ms Ramsey said.