Boris and Gove’s life-or-death gaffes

Cab­i­net min­is­ters’ com­pla­cent re­marks put life of UK woman jailed in Iran at risk, writes Struan Steven­son

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It seems in­cred­i­ble that yet an­other cab­i­net min­is­ter can com­mit a gaffe that could fur­ther en­dan­ger the life of Nazanin Zaghari­rat­cliffe, the 38-year-old Bri­tishi­ra­nian woman, un­justly caged in Tehran’s hell­hole Evin prison.

Michael Gove’s comments on the BBC Andrew Marr Show that he didn’t know what Zaghari­rat­cliffe had been do­ing in Iran when she was ar­rested, has com­pounded the gaffe by For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son who told the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee that she was in Iran “teach­ing jour­nal­ists”.

De­spite the For­eign Sec­re­tary’s sub­se­quent grov­el­ling ex­pla­na­tion to the House of Com­mons, in which he said the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment was quite clear that she had sim­ply been in Iran on hol­i­day and vis­it­ing her rel­a­tives, it seems that Gove could not bring him­self to re­peat this. Ob­sessed with Brexit and con­sumed by plots to un­der­mine Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, John­son and Gove seem to care lit­tle for the plight of a young mother held by the mur­der­ous Ira­nian regime.

Quick to seize on the comments by John­son to jus­tify their far­ci­cal im­pris­on­ment of Zaghari-rat­cliffe, the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment has trum­peted John­son’s ear­lier state­ment, claim­ing that this proved her guilt in be­ing in­volved in pro­pa­ganda, es­pi­onage and at­tempts to over­throw the regime.

Gove’s comments to Andrew Marr will have re­in­forced their de­ci­sion to haul the in­no­cent char­ity worker be­fore an­other court to add to her sen­tence. Her hus­band Richard Rat­cliffe has made fran­tic ef­forts to have his wife freed, dis­clos­ing that she is now des­per­ately ill and suf­fer­ing from ex­treme stress.

Their baby daugh­ter Gabriella, who is a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, has been forced to stay with her grand­par­ents in Tehran since Zaghari­rat­cliffe was jailed.

Gabriella now can only speak Farsi, hav­ing for­got­ten all but a few English words.

Gove and John­son should wake up to the predica­ment in which their smug, com­pla­cent re­marks have placed Zaghari­rat­cliffe. Many women have been ex­e­cuted in Iran for lesser of­fences. Ear­lier this year Amnesty In­ter­na­tional pub­lished a 94-page re­port en­ti­tled Caught in a web of re­pres­sion: Iran’s hu­man rights de­fend­ers un­der at­tack.

It de­tailed 45 spe­cific in­stances of what the or­gan­i­sa­tion has de­scribed as a “vi­cious crack­down” coin­cid­ing with the sup­pos­edly mod­er­ate pres­i­dency of Hassan Rouhani. The re­port de­tailed how the Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties have re­peat­edly di­min­ished the stan­dards by which they ac­cuse and con­vict peo­ple for al­leged na­tional se­cu­rity crimes, while also in­creas­ing the sever­ity of pun­ish­ments that are meted out to those same peo­ple.

The abu­sive na­ture of those pun­ish­ments was re­in­forced by new rev­e­la­tions that emerged along­side the Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­port, mainly re­gard­ing the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic’s no­to­ri­ous overuse of the death penalty.

Iran has long main­tained world-lead­ing rates of ex­e­cu­tion, and the vi­o­lence and re­pres­sion of the past few years have been re­flected in a pat­tern of hang­ings that in­cludes pe­ri­odic spikes dur­ing which dozens of peo­ple are put to death in a sin­gle month.

Many of the hang­ings take place in­side Evin prison where Zaghari-rat­cliffe is be­ing held. This is the real Iran un­der the theo­cratic and fas­cist rule of the mul­lahs, whose so-called ‘mod­er­ate’ pres­i­dent Rouhani the West be­lieves it can do deals with.

Rouhani is in charge of a ve­nally cor­rupt gov­ern­ment, which has ex­e­cuted more than 3,500 peo­ple since he took of­fice in 2013, with in ex­cess of 350 so far this year.

Gove and John­son should also un­der­stand the true na­ture of the so-called jus­tice sys­tem in Iran, where the cur­rent jus­tice min­is­ter, Alireza Avaie, has been listed on EU and UK ter­ror­ist lists since 2011 for hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

In­deed Avaie, only ap­pointed in July this year as jus­tice min­is­ter by Rouhani, is no­to­ri­ous for his well-known role as pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor in the city of Dez­ful in Iran’s Khuzes­tan Prov­ince in the late 1980s, when he was per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for or­der­ing the hang­ing of count­less po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing many teenagers and stu­dents, for al­leged op­po­si­tion to the op­pres­sive rule of the mul­lahs.

John­son says that he now in­tends to travel to Tehran to make a case for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of Zaghari­rat­cliffe. He should first seek a com­pre­hen­sive brief on the mur­der­ers and despots he will be deal­ing with in the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment.

But there is lit­tle point in ask­ing his of­fi­cials in the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice for this brief.

Their pol­icy of cring­ing ap­pease­ment of the mul­lahs’ regime is why suc­ces­sive Bri­tish gov­ern­ments have al­ways placed trade and lu­cra­tive com­mer­cial con­tracts ahead of hu­man rights.

Their ar­ro­gant and com­pla­cent ap­proach to one of the world’s most cruel and tyran­ni­cal regimes is the main rea­son why Zaghari-rat­cliffe has been al­lowed to lan­guish in Evin prison for 19 months and also the main rea­son why suc­ces­sive cab­i­net min­is­ters seem to be woe­fully ig­no­rant of her plight. l Struan Steven­son, a for­mer Con­ser­va­tive MEP for Scot­land and ex-chair­man of the Friends of a Free Iran In­ter­group, is pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Iraqi Free­dom As­so­ci­a­tion.

0 Nazanin Rat­cliffe-zaghari, seen with her hus­band Richard on hol­i­day in Iran, is now in the no­to­ri­ous Evin prison

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