Little hope for prisoner release in Iran

17th December 2017

Boris in Iran

The much publicised trip of UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to Tehran recently appears not to have secured the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in spite of the high hopes that the UK media attached to the visit.

Her case seems to be a clear matter of injustice and a violation of her human rights.

However, Mrs Zaghari-Radcliffe is not alone. Evin prison in Tehran, has been and remains, synonymous with the Iranian regimes oppression of many thousands of Iranian democrats. Top of the governments hit list are trade union activists, socialists, women’s organizers, and student protesters.

Mrs Zaghari-Radcliffe’s ongoing incarceration comes as no great surprise to those who have been monitoring the Islamic Republic for the past thirty years. The regime in Iran is nothing if not intransigent. Its track record in dealing with internal opposition over the years is a clear illustration that the regime in Tehran tolerates no dissent and is ruthless in dealing with those it deems to be taking issue with its policies. Executions without trial and long sentences with no evidence or fair trial are part of everyday life in Iran.

The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) has been engaged in campaigning against the abuse of human rights in Iran for the entire period of the Islamic Republic’s existence. CODIR has significant experience of the unresponsiveness of the regime to both internal and external pressure.

“Given the track record of the regime in Iran we should not be surprised to hear that the Foreign Secretary’s trip has not brought immediate results”, CODIR Assistant Secretary, Jamshid Ahmadi, said today. “It is very unlikely that the theocracy in Iran would want to be seen to be responding to such pressure. If the UK citizens in Iran’s jails are to be freed, the Iranian government will want to be seen to be doing this in its own time, for its own reasons.”

The British government decision to “voice its concern” for Mrs Zaghari-Radcliffe and seek her release, dispatching its bumbling Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson to raise her case with his counterpart, Mohammad Javid Zarif and Iranian President Rouhani is hypocrisy to say the least. Both these men, despite their depiction by some in the West, have the blood of Iranian democrats on their hands, while they manage a corrupt system of theocratic dictatorship.

There has been talk in the media that a deal relating to payments to Iran from the 1970’s may be the key to unlock the release of prisoners. In 1976 the Shah paid the UK £300m for a delivery of tanks, which never arrived due to the arms embargo following the 1979 revolution and subsequent arms embargo.

While the UK government insist that any release will not be linked to such payments it is known that the release of five US citizens last year followed agreement on a similarly contested payment being settled.
Given that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been accused of “propaganda against the regime” the Iranians will need significant persuasion to release her without losing face.

The lifting of banking restrictions, which make it difficult for Iran to benefit from the lifting of EU sanctions, is one area, the outstanding payments issue another, which will have been on the agenda in discussions with the Foreign Secretary.

Any deal linked to prisoner release is unlikely to be made public. Any release of foreign prisoners is unlikely to benefit the internal opposition from trade unions, political parties and women’s groups languishing in the Islamic Republic’s jails.

“We hope that UK citizens imprisoned unjustly in Iran will be freed”, continued Mr. Ahmadi, “but our work will need to continue in order to highlight the ongoing brutality of the Iranian regime against its own citizens. Until that ends, our campaign will not be over.”

There is still a slim chance that Johnson will influence the eventual release of one Iranian-British national. However, by failing to condemn widespread violations of human rights and freedoms throughout the Islamic Republic and overlooking the crimes of the Iranian government against its own people, he places himself and his government on the wrong side of justice and history.

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