Two of the hostages Iran is holding are an innocent British mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and her helpless four-year-old daughter, Gabriella. Pictured: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe in 2011. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
"Sometimes when I come back from the visit with Gabriella, after saying goodbye to her, I feel as if I cannot live without her, I want to go back and hold her. She kisses me so hard. It is hard to say goodbye to her. She blows kisses all the way as she goes up the stairs, and everyone stands there watching." These are the words of a grieving British mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held in prison in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as she describes saying goodbye to her child.
In 2016, the relationship between the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Obama administration seemed to have reached a euphoric level. Many exorbitant concessions were made by the United States to the Islamic Republic. The argument for these concessions was that such policies of appeasement would inspire Iran to change its malignant behavior, and that the freedoms that resulted would trickle down to the Iranian people. People began to think it would be safe to travel to Iran again. As tourism began to increase, however, it soon became clear that there was still rampant danger. People started becoming the new hostages of Iran.
Two of these victims are an innocent British mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and her helpless then-22-month-old daughter, Gabriella. Zaghari-Ratcliffe traveled with her baby to Iran to visit her family on Norowz, the Iranian New Year, in 2016. With the change in political climate Zaghari-Ratcliffe, employed as a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Canadian news agency, Thomson Reuters, assumed they would be safe. As she boarded the plane, she had no idea what she would face at the Khomeini Airport. She was surrounded by The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and arrested.
Immediately, the IRGC confiscated both her and her daughter's passports. Gabriella does not have an Iranian nationality; she was born in Britain. Despite her foreign citizenship, she has not been allowed to return to their. As is true in many Iranian court cases authorities are not required to, and did not offer, any reason to detain or arrest Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her child.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe not only had her baby taken from her, she was faced with the confusion of why she had even been arrested in the first place. Later, ambiguous and vague charges surfaced. Although the authorities never presented any evidence, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was accused of "plotting to topple the Iranian government." With no ability to defend herself, and no requirement for actual proof that such a crime had occurred, she was sent to prison. The entire situation looks like another instance of Iranian serial kidnapping and hostage taking, starting with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81, in which 52 American citizens and diplomats were held for 444 days. When President Ronald Reagan – expected not to look kindly upon the situation – was elected, the hostages were immediately released.
The Iranians proceeded to kidnap more Americans, five of whom were released by then-President Barack Obama for an illegal ransom of $1.7 billion
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, about whom a "proof-of-life" video from 2010 was released in 2012, is still missing.
In 2007, Iranians seized five Britons from a government ministry building in the Baghdad in May 2007, apparently to stop Iran's diversion of $18 billion to Iraq from being exposed. "Just one, Peter Moore, made it out of Iran alive," according to the Guardian.
Even though the United Kingdom has been providing assistance to the Iranian regime by arguing in its defense to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the "nuclear deal"), Iranian leaders evidently feel no obligation to return the favor. Instead, they continue to hold an innocent citizen of the United Kingdom, and imprison her mother under fabricated charges -- presumably in the hope of yet more ransom money or possibly the continuation of the never-signed nuclear deal that would enable it to advance to deliverable nuclear capability.
The British government and the United Nations have repeatedly reached out to the ruling mullahs of Iran and asked that Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her baby be allowed to return to their home in the United Kingdom. Despite countless attempts made to help Iran, it has ignored their requests. Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, as well as Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have called on Iran to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe:] "We consider that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated, she pointed out ... These are flagrant violations of Iran's obligations under international law".
Even though the British government has sometimes come to her defense, the 41-year-old Zaghari-Ratcliffe has faced a worsening situation. The conditions of her imprisonment continue to deteriorate. Her legal rights have been completely scuttled.
With no fair and due process in the Sharia court, she has been consistently denied access to her lawyer. The Iranian regime has even refused to allow the British authorities to have access to her. The Sharia court then sentenced her to five years in prison.
Currently the treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has exceeded 1,000 days in prison as of January 2019, amounts to torture. From what information her family has been able to gather, her situation as a prisoner in Iran is dire, and she has said she will go on a hunger strike.
They explained this while pleading for the United Nations to intervene in her case to free her from the torment she is forced to endure. Although the prison's doctor has promised her medical care, the Iranian authorities are refusing to provide it. The Labour MP for Hampstead, Tulip Siddiq, urged the British government to act because Zaghari-Ratcliffe treatment is "becoming a matter of life and death".
This international breach of justice should be a lesson to the UK and other governments: It does not matter if the mullahs reach out their hands out in peace, the Islamist regime of Iran will continue to harm innocent victims on a daily basis. In response to that snub, the UK should consider bringing to a halt its appeasement policies toward the fundamentalist mullahs. The more the ruling mullahs are appeased, the more emboldened and empowered they become to violate human rights.
The British government should also level appropriate economic and political sanctions against Iran to pressure the regime into agreeing to stop all human rights abuses, and also to release an innocent mother, and her baby, so that they may be reunited and return home. It must be made clear to Iran that, apart from its unacceptable nuclear and ballistic missile build up, the UK -- and every country -- will also not stand for the capture, torture and imprisonment of the innocent.
If the British government speaks in actions rather than words, perhaps these captives, just two of many who endure such unspeakable hardship, could be free to resume the life they deserve again, and the world could be free of a major nuclear threat.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu