Five-Year Prison Sentence for Dual National Casts Shadow Over Iran’s Opening to World
Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe’s Sentence Announced Two Weeks Before Rouhani Comes to NY
September 12, 2016—The five-year prison sentence for Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, a dual citizen of Iran and the UK who has been inside Iranian prisons for the past five months, lacks any legal justification, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in a statement today. The Campaign asked the Iranian government to immediately release Ms. Zaghari, as well as the other dual citizens imprisoned in similarly politicized cases.
According to a statement released on Friday, September 9, by Nazanin Zaghari’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, the five-year prison sentenced was issued by Judge Abolqasem Salavati in the presence of Ms. Zaghari and her lawyer. Mr. Ratcliffe added the charges that led to this sentence are unknown to Ms. Zaghari’s family. The family has appealed the decision, but no dates have been set for the appeals court.
“The five-year prison sentence against Ms. Zaghari, has been issued without even a pretense of a fair judicial process,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s executive director.
“Her prosecution shows that people are imprisoned in Iran not on the basis of the rule of law but rather the whim of hardline officials with political motives—which in this case are to intimidate dual nationals and undermine the opening up of the country,” Ghaemi added.
Zaghari was sentenced by Judge Salavati, a judge whose harsh sentences in politicized cases are notorious. His sentencing pattern shows he has routinely followed recommendations from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Intelligence Organization.
In interviews with the Campaign, several lawyers have criticized Judge Salavati for ignoring arguments by the defense in court and bowing to the demands of the prosecution, especially in cases in which the arresting authority was the Guards’ Intelligence Organization.
Judge Salavati has presided over many cases against dual nationals, including Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian, who were released in January 2016 in a prisoner swap with the US. He is also the presiding judge in current cases against Iranian-Canadian scholar Homa Hoodfar, and Iranian-American business consultant Siamak Namazi and his father Bagher Namazi. In all these cases, the victims have been held without due process and under unclear or unannounced charges, and denied full and proper legal representation.
“A sentence with secret charges still seems crazy. Literally it is a punishment without a crime,” her husband Richard Ratcliffe said in the family’s statement.
On Friday September 9, Nazanin was allowed to call her husband. When asked what her charges were, she asked the Guard next to her by the phone who clarified that they were “national security charges.”
Over the phone, Nazanin said: “Five years is ridiculous. For what? We will appeal. But I don’t know how long it will take, how long it will last. Months? They said that sometimes you can settle cases on appeal through payment – but not often cases like mine. So I don’t know how long it will go on taking.”
Richard Ratcliffe said: “It remains extraordinary that Nazanin’s interrogators clarify the sentence but not the crime. Because there is none.”
Zaghari’s employer in London, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, issued a statement condemning the five-year prison sentence:
“Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while on holiday visiting her parents in Tehran with her young daughter and has been in prison since early April. She has now been charged and will stand trial in the Revolutionary Court under Judge Salavati. The charges are unknown, but appear to relate to the completely unfounded allegation that Nazanin has plotted the ‘soft’ overthrow of the Iranian regime. The nature of any alleged confession has not been disclosed and would have been obtained while Nazanin was held under interrogation in solitary confinement for 45 days,” said the Monique Villa, the foundation CEO.
Zaghari was detained at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport on her way back home to the UK on April 3, 2016. She is currently being held in Evin Prison in a ward controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards after being transferred from Kerman Prison in southeastern Iran on June 6.
In a statement on June 15, the Revolutionary Guard’s Sarallah division in Kerman Province accused Zaghari of being “top operative in a foreign network” who was participating in a “plot for the soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic.”
Zaghari was sentenced one day after the UK reopened its embassy in Tehran and the two countries exchanged ambassadors after five years.
A source from the UK Foreign Office told Reuters on June 15 that the British government was “urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities” and had “raised this case repeatedly and at the highest levels and will continue to do so at every available opportunity.”