Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe campaigners call for sanctions against 10 Iranian officials

Group wants travel bans and asset freezes imposed on Iranians accused of roles in the hostage-taking process

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, who is detained in Iran, poses for a photograph before attending a show at the fringe festival about his wife's story in Edinburgh, Britain. Aug 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Super
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Campaigners have sent the UK government a list of 10 Iranian officials who the activists insist should face sanctions for their role in taking hostages.

Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in Iran after being held in 2016 on disputed charges, on Sunday called for travel bans and asset freezes for the 10, who are all accused of roles in the hostage-taking process from seizure to prison abuse, propaganda and diplomatic wrangling.

The dossier filed with the UK is the first, with more expected in the coming weeks that will go to the US, EU and Canada calling for a multinational effort aimed at people involved in the operations.

The file includes details of sham trials, unlawful arrests, forced confessions and torture.

It is the work of lawyers and the families of more than 10 victims who have detailed their relatives’ experiences at the hands of the Iranian criminal justice system.

The families of the inmates want the governments to use so-called Magnitsky laws – designed to punish human rights abusers – as well as other Iran-focused sanctions' regimes.

The campaigners have declined to publicly identify the 10 because of security concerns. But the dossier comes as some world leaders prepare to gather in New York this week for a UN General Assembly pared down because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, the former head of the judiciary, will not attend but his foreign minister is scheduled to travel. Liz Truss, the UK’s new Foreign Secretary, will also travel.

She asked to speak to Mr Ratcliffe on Sunday after the dossier was sent to her department for consideration last week.

Her predecessor, Dominic Raab, had been confident of a breakthrough this year in the case of his Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is currently on bail and living at her parents’ Tehran home, and another British-Iranian, Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, a retired engineer serving 10 years in Evin jail on disputed charges of spying for Israel.

But campaigners decided to act after the diplomatic efforts came to nothing and a new Iranian government was elected under arch-conservative Mr Raisi, signalling a potentially tougher stance on the dual-citizen prisoner issue in the coming months.

The move also comes only days before the 2,000-day anniversary of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention at Tehran’s international airport as the charity worker prepared to fly home to London with her young daughter after seeing her parents.

Mr Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori’s family have linked their arrests with the failure of the UK to fulfil a £400 million ($549.6m) debt still owed to Iran after an arms deal with the former shah that was cancelled when he was ousted during the 1979 Revolution.

Mr Ratcliffe has talked about holding judges and jailers responsible for Iran’s hostage-taking industry for years but the families, working with lawyers, have put forward names for the first time. He said there are now more British citizens in prison than there were when his wife was first taken.

“We’ve put in front of the new foreign secretary a file of names, those who are involved in Iran’s hostage taking across the chain … those involved in taking people, processing them, giving them judges, those who are involved in treating them badly in prison,” he said.

“We’re not calling for broad-brush sanctions or collective punishment-type sanctions, it’s very much focused on those who were individually responsible for that stuff.

“It’s a form of organised crime and Iran has become a serial offender. But most hostages these days are state hostages – it’s not groups like ISIS. It’s growing – and in many ways this goes beyond Iran.”

Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, called for a “clearly articulated strategy” for securing the release of British citizens held in Iran.

"The plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and other UK nationals held in Iran has extended across the last four foreign secretaries – it's long past time that the UK finally brought this deeply distressing episode to an end."

Updated: September 19, 2021, 2:13 PM