Inquiry will probe UK's efforts to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Inquiry will probe Government’s efforts to secure release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from Iran after former hostage criticised Foreign secretaries saying it should not have taken ‘six years’ to get her home

  • Foreign Affairs Committee will hold an inquiry into British hostages held in Iran
  • It will review UK efforts to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori
  • Both have criticised the Foreign Office for failing to secure their freedom sooner
  • Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq says ‘lessons must be learnt’ over case

MPs are to stage an inquiry examining the UK’s efforts over the years to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from their detention in Iran.

The Foreign Affairs Committee said it would review evidence of how their cases were handled by British officials as part of a wider investigation into ‘state level hostage situations’.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, who was detained for six years, and Mr Ashoori, who was held for almost five, were released last month after the UK agreed to settle a historic £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.

Following their return both have been critical of the failure of the Foreign Office (FCDO) to secure their freedom sooner.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (centre) criticised the delays in her case in a press conference with her husband Richard (left) and MP Tulip Siddiq (right) after her release

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arriving at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, on March 17

What will evidence will the inquiry examine? 

 The inquiry is set to ask the following questions:  

  • What were the merits and mistakes made in the approach of the FCDO to the handling of the Iranian hostage situation and any other similar situations in recent years?
  • Does the Government’s approach provide an effective deterrent to state-based hostage situations?
  • What efforts is the Government taking, or should take, to secure international agreement on deterring and handling state-based hostage taking?

In a press conference with her husband Richard after her release last month, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe took issue with the Government’s handling of her case and said: ‘How many Foreign Secretaries is it going to take for someone to get out? Five?

‘It should have been one of them eventually. So now, here we are. What happened now should have happened six years ago.  It shouldn’t have taken six years. And I think we have gone through a lot, it has been a tough journey.’

Since arriving back in the UK, both Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori’s families have stayed in government safe houses along with their families. 

Announcing the inquiry today, Foreign Affair Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat MP said: ‘Nazanin and Anoosheh’s homecoming is wonderful news, but long overdue. After years of imprisonment, in extremely difficult circumstances, Nazanin and Anoosheh are right to ask for answers.’

He said that it was also important to look at the wider issues raised by Iran’s use of the detainees as leverage in the debt negotiations.

 ‘Iran is not the only country engaging in state hostage taking,’ he said.

‘The tactic is fast becoming a tool of choice for authoritarian states and recent high-profile cases have highlighted the challenges governments face when securing the release of hostages held captive by states.

Foreign Affair Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat MP said: ‘After years of imprisonment, in extremely difficult circumstances, Nazanin and Anoosheh are right to ask for answers’

The announcement of the inquiry was welcomed by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, who was involved in the campaign for her release

‘This inquiry will examine the support provided by the FCDO to hostages in recent cases, as well as take a look at the broader picture and ask how the Government can clamp down on the practice internationally.’

The announcement of the inquiry was welcomed by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, who was involved in the campaign for her release.

‘While in Iran, Nazanin was blindfolded, handcuffed, interrogated and subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and torture,’ she said.

‘The Government has serious questions to answer about why this was allowed to happen to an innocent British citizen, who was caught as a pawn in a political dispute between two countries.

The inquiry will discuss the approach taken by the UK Government in securing the release of the detainees in Iran, and other similar situations.

It will also aim to assess the likely impact the FCDO’s approach may have on deterring other states from using this tactic and will consider options for multilateral action to further deter such behaviour.

Five foreign secretaries who took six years to free Nazanin and Boris’s bungle which made things worse 

In the six years of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran, four UK foreign secretaries held office. But how successful were they in securing her freedom?

1. PHILIP HAMMOND (July 2014- July 2016) 

Philip Hammond, was in post when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April 2016.

He told the Commons at the time that he had raised her case ‘a number of times’ with the then Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘We continue to lobby the Iranians regularly about all our consular cases in Iran, including that of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe,’ he said. 

He then moved jobs to become Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

2. BORIS JOHNSON (July 2016–July 2018)

Boris Johnson scored some of his worst criticism when as foreign secretary in November 2017, he told the House of Commons that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was ‘simply teaching people journalism’.

This was in spite of her defence that she was on holiday visiting her parents.

Three days later, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was dragged before a court hearing in Iran, which used Johnson’s remarks as evidence. 

3. JEREMY HUNT (July 2018-July 2019)

Mr Hunt met Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard and won plaudits for pressing Iran for her release. 

In November 2019, after he left office, Mr Hunt argued Britain should pay a £400million historic debt to Iran to help secure her freedom.

4. DOMINIC RAAB (July 2019-September 2021)

Throughout his tenure as foreign secretary, Mr Raab insisted his department was working ‘tenaciously’ to free Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. 

He argued against the use of an ankle tag and fought to improve her conditions. 

But Nazanin herself was apparently disappointed when Mr Raab failed to attend a Commons debate about her situation in April last year.

5. LIZ TRUSS (September 2021-Present)

Ms Truss earned praise across the House of Commons when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s freedom was finally secured this month after six years of imprisonment.   


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