Nazanin photo

Ongoing violations of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s rights demand strongest action from the UK government as she begins hunger strike

The appalling and ongoing violations of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s rights demand that the UK Government pursue all available options to protect her and obtain redress, including placing her under diplomatic protection as she starts a hunger strike today.

Iranian authorities have restricted calls to her family, reduced food rations and have exerted further psychological pressure on her with the release of a new propaganda film last week following Nazanin’s announcement that she would begin a three-day hunger strike on 14 January against being refused medical treatment.

Nazanin’s health has severely declined since her arrest and imprisonment in 2016, which United Nations experts have found to be unlawful and arbitrary. While in prison, she has suffered from blackouts, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty moving her arms and hands, and suicidal thoughts. Several UN experts have expressed their serious concerns about her conditions of detention and deteriorating health since her arrest.

Last year, REDRESS urged the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to intervene in her case, highlighting in an urgent appeal to him that the exceptionally harsh treatment inflicted upon her and resulting harm may amount to torture. This treatment included being held in solitary confinement for eight and half months; inhumane conditions of detention, and the exercise of “maximum psychological pressure … to put her in a situation of complete powerlessness”.

REDRESS has previously urged the UK government to place Nazanin under diplomatic protection, a mechanism under international law in which a State may secure protection and obtain reparation for a legally wrongful act committed against one of its nationals.

A legal opinion prepared by senior counsel that REDRESS sent to the Foreign Office in October 2017 concluded that the UK Government was entitled to exercise diplomatic protection under international law. It found that her personal history, employment, financial and other ties to the UK made clear that her predominant nationality is British. The UK government has yet to make a decision on this request.

Rupert Skilbeck, Director of REDRESS, said:

“It is REDRESS’s view that the UK government must treat Nazanin’s case as a legal dispute between states and seek a remedy on her behalf, taking immediate steps to secure her release. Several UN experts have sent strong and unequivocal messages regarding Nazanin’s appalling treatment by Iran. It’s time for the UK government to do the same and apply the strongest pressure possible to protect Nazanin’s rights and bring her home.”

Skilbeck added: “We are gravely concerned about the mental and physical impact that Nazanin’s prolonged and unjustified imprisonment is having on her. Any new denials of her right to medical care further worsen the ongoing serious violations of her human rights. The UK government should assert Nazanin’s rights under international law to obtain reparation on her behalf – including her release.”

For more information or for an interview, please contact Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, on 020 7793 1777 or 07857110076 (out of hours) and [email protected].

 Notes to editors:

  1. REDRESS is an international human rights organisation that represents victims of torture to obtain justice and reparation. REDRESS also uses the law to combat impunity for governments and individuals who perpetrate torture, and to develop and promote compliance with international standards.
  2. Nazanin, a British-Iranian mother on whose case REDRESS has worked since 2016, turned 40 behind bars in Iran over Christmas. She has now been separated for over 1,000 days from her 4-year-old daughter Gabriella and her husband Richard.
  3. Iranian State TV broadcast last Tuesday 8 January 2019 new propaganda accusing her of being a British spy alongside previously unseen footage of her arrest at Tehran airport. In the footage Nazanin looks terrified as she is prevented from boarding a plane home to London after holidaying in the country.
  4. On 30 December 2018 Nazanin announced in a public letter her intention to start a hunger strike in protest against being refused medical treatment to check lumps in her breasts, neurological care for her neck pains and numbness in her arms and legs, and access to an outside psychiatrist.
  5. Diplomatic protection is a mechanism by which a State may secure reparation for injury to one of its nationals, premised on the principle that an injury to a national is an injury to the State itself. It is a well-established principle of international law and has been used in a number of cases around the world.In Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, it would mean the UK acknowledging that she has been subjected to grave violations of her fundamental rights by Iran and that this is, in legal terms, an injury to the UK itself. The UK could then take a number of different steps, including formally requesting a private consular meeting with Nazanin; lodging an official protest with Iran; issuing a diplomatic summons to the Iranian Ambassador to the UK; and requesting the immediate commencement of formal negotiations. In November 2017, REDRESS urged the UK government to grant diplomatic protection to Nazanin. More information is available here. A briefing on diplomatic protection prepared by REDRESS is available here.
  6. On 1 July 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran along with several other UN Special Rapporteurs, submitted a joint Communication to the Government of Iran highlighting their serious concerns about Nazanin’s arrest and detention. Subsequently, following a REDRESS submission, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) issued an Opinion on Nazanin’s case on 7 September 2016, finding that her detention was arbitrary, and referring the case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture for further investigation. On 6 October 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran and other UN Special Rapporteurs sent a further Communication to the Government of Iran, expressing again their serious concerns about her situation. On 14 February 2018, REDRESS sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture in follow-up to those earlier interventions and where it detailed the severe treatment inflicted upon Nazanin during her detention in Iran, and that REDRESS argued may amount to torture.
  7. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture can transmit urgent appeals to States with regard to individuals reported to be at risk of torture, as well as communications on past alleged cases of torture; undertake fact-finding country visits; and submit annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The Special Rapporteur may decide to approach other UN mechanisms and country rapporteurs with a view to sending joint communications or seeking joint missions.
  8. More information about the case is available here.