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Sir Peter Westmacott: Let’s get the politics out of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case

With the recent headlines surrounding the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family following Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest at the Imam Khomeini Airport as she and daughter were about to board a flight back to the UK in April 2016 following a visit to her family for Nowruz (Persian new Year).   The exact reason for her arrest initially unclear, though according to Amnesty International it is believed to be related to the 2014 imprisonment of several Iranian technology news website employees. Zaghari-Ratcliffe used to work for the BBC Media Action international charitable project, (which sits in the BBC World Service Group) and is linked to a BBC training course offered to Iranian journalists, some of who were convicted for participating in the foreign training course in 2014.

With Nazanin’s wife, Richard having met with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Sir Peter Westmacott recently wrote for the Guardian on the commonalities between Britain and Iran.   In the article, Sir Peter acknowledges that Britain and Iranian relations have always been complex following historical British intervention in Iran. Westmacott has first-hand experience of this having been posted in Iran as a young diplomat in the late 1970s.

Sir Peter writes:

Her case is particularly tragic. It is clear that when she was arrested in Iran last year she was on holiday visiting her mother… Boris Johnson misspoke when he told the foreign affairs committee on 1 November that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalists when she was detained. Even if she had been, there would have been no justification for her imprisonment by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. But his false statement was seized upon by the court as evidence that she had indeed been working to undermine the regime.

As Westmacott explained, this was a particularly costly mistake as error was not immediately admitted by Mr Johnson. “This was no help at all, either to Zaghari-Ratcliffe or in setting the record straight.” Westmacott suggests “wiping the slate clean”, setting aside the concept of reciprocity and embracing our best humanitarian instincts to help an individual caught up in a political tug-of-war.   Whilst Britain and Iran do possess major differences, Sir Peter Westmacott urges us to recognise our commonalities, including the efforts that both countries have been making to defeat Islamic State.   “Which was the one capital of an Islamic country in which people held a spontaneous candlelit vigil of sympathy for the victims of 9/11 16 years ago? Tehran.”

More on Sir Peter Westmacott:

Sir Peter was British Ambassador to the United States from 2012-16. Prior to his position in the United States, Sir Peter served as Ambassador to France from 2007-12, and Ambassador to Turkey from 2002-06 where, in 2003, he dealt with a suicide bomb attack directed at the British Consulate in Istanbul, killing 15 people; thereafter he was closely involved in negotiations attempting to bring Turkey into the EU.   Sir Peter’s 40-year career in the British Diplomatic Service also included four years in Iran (before the Revolution) and an interim deployment to the European Commission in Brussels. Previously, he was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Director for the Americas from 1997-2000, before taking a seat on the board as Deputy Under Secretary.

To read more about Sir Peter Westmacott, click here.

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