Iran: Anoosheh Ashouri bemoans UK’s lost opportunity to free detainees
Anoosheh Ashouri, the former British-Iranian jailer, said he lost “almost five years” of his life in prison in Iran after the UK government was accused of asking for early opportunities to release him.
A report by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on state hostage diplomacy was published on Tuesday, in which a cross-party group of MPs said Ashouri and fellow detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff had suffered “significant suffering” because of the government’s initial refusal to accept him. . the terms of which eventually led to his release in March 2022.
Ashouri, a businessman, was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2019 for spying on Israel and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth”, claims he denies.
British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran in 2016 on espionage charges. Both were released in 2022 after the British government agreed to pay off a historic £400m debt owed to Iran to buy tanks.
However, evidence gathered by the committee indicated that the terms offered for their release were no different when negotiations began in 2017, and there was little to justify not securing their freedom at that time. .
“There is compelling evidence that repayment of the IMS debt became a precondition for the release of UK nationals from Iran,” the report said.
“It was unfortunate that he failed to pay it sooner and it certainly had a negative impact on the length of detentions by limiting diplomatic options to negotiate an earlier release and caused great suffering.”
In 2017, Boris Johnson was foreign secretary and when Ashouri and Zaghari-Ratcliffe were finally released he was prime minister. The committee noted that another minister in the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) at the time, Alastair Burt, recommended that the debt be paid.
‘If the debts had been paid earlier, I would not have lost almost five years of my life’
– Anoosheh Ashouri
“I am happy that the Foreign Affairs Committee has finally recognized that there were many serious shortcomings in the FCDO’s handling of the hostage situation,” Ashouri told Middle East Eye.
“If the debts had been paid earlier, I would not have lost almost five years of my life in what I call ‘Hell Valley’.”
The report acknowledged that US sanctions against Iran may have been a factor in delaying the payment, but said that all that had changed in the years between the arrests and their eventual release is “an expression of the terms of the sanctions, and the political will. disrupting the US administration at risk.”
In comments to MEE, a spokesperson for the FCDO said that “consular officers are available 24/7 for families to receive tailored support. The Foreign Secretary and FCDO Ministers are fully engaged in complex cases and have raised concerns with governments foreign.”
“The welfare of British national detainees is at the heart of our consular work and we support and work with their families where we can.”
‘inconsistency and clumsiness’
The Foreign Affairs Committee report also accused the British government of “inconsistency and clumsiness” in its communications with detainees’ families.
He cited Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s handling of the case of US-UK-Iranian citizen Morad Tahbaz, who Truss initially agreed with the US to release alongside Ashouri and Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
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“Liz Truss did not stand by this arrangement, however, and did not inform the family or US officials that Morad was not to be released along with Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori,” the report said.
“Liz Truss eventually asked the family to say ‘Morad is now a US problem’, implying that she would not make further efforts to release him, and that she had no time to talk to them any more.”
One suggestion in the report was to create a new position, a director for arbitrary and complex detention, who would have a “direct line to the prime minister”, a suggestion welcomed by Ashouri.
“I am very pleased with the proposal to appoint a new person in charge of these cases, which means that they will be dealing with similar cases with more compassion and knowledge in the future,” he said.