In Brief

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: held to a £400m ransom

Boris Johnson has ‘a moral duty to set this right’, said The Observer

It’s hard to imagine a more devoted husband than Richard Ratcliffe, said Clare Foges in The Times. Since his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran on trumped-up charges in 2016, he has campaigned tirelessly for her release.

Fearing that she might be given a further sentence, over the past three weeks he “starved himself on Whitehall, a desperate man playing his last card, muscles wasting, body creaking”. His hunger strike has now ended, and his family is still no closer to a solution; after five years of promising to “turn over every stone”, the Government has achieved nothing.

Yet there is a simple solution: ministers could settle the UK’s debt of some £400m to Iran. In 1971, the UK agreed to sell 1,500 tanks to the Iranians. After the Shah fell in 1979, however, “we refused to deliver the tanks but kept the cash” – a bone of contention ever since. It’s clear Zaghari-Ratcliffe won’t be released until the debt is paid. International courts have ruled that we should pay up. So why don’t we?

Because it would be a bad idea to give “an illegitimate hostile theocracy” hundreds of millions in cash, said Henry Hill on Conservative Home – even if there were any guarantee that it would secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, “which there is not”. It would break sanctions on Iran, which might well use the £400m to “export terror” across the region. And it would be seen as “a ransom payment by other groups which might be tempted to kidnap British citizens”. Ministers cannot ignore all this “because of one human story, however agonising”.

Even so, Boris Johnson has “a moral duty to set this right”, said The Observer. He made a “disastrous blunder” early on in the case, by telling Parliament that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Tehran to teach journalism, when she was merely visiting family. This was used by Iran to justify her jailing. He then made a personal promise that the £400m would be paid, to smooth things over with the Iranians.

Ratcliffe believes that setting this price, and then failing to honour the promise, is why his wife is still being held today. At any rate, the Government’s current approach is clearly failing. Johnson needs to “take responsibility and bend his will to freeing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe”.

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