Amnesty International said Wednesday that the onus lay with the British government to investigate Iranian officials suspected of “hostage-taking.”

The group released a detailed report compiling evidence that the six-year detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on spying charges amounted to a crime under international law and cited other foreign and dual nationals detained in Iran “whose arbitrary detention may amount to hostage-taking.” Amnesty said it last month submitted its evidence to the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which has set up its own enquiry.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released and returned to London in March following the British government paying a £400-million ($500-million) debt to Iran outstanding since the 1970s.

“They used spurious national security charges and sham judicial proceedings against her with the aim of exerting pressure on the UK government to settle its debts,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty noted that after Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release “a slew of reports by Iranian state media outlets” stated “she had been released ‘in exchange’ for the payment.” These media reports “mirrored “almost identical statements made by the Iranian authorities to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family during her detention.”

Nazanin and her husband Richard Ratcliff at a press conference on March 21, 2022

But while both Iran and the United Kingdom were parties to International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, requiring them to both prevent and to punish hostage-taking, Eltahawy argued, the “prevailing climate of impunity in Iran has emboldened the authorities to continue using dual and foreign nationals as political bargaining chips without any fear of consequences.”

Request extradition

“The Convention,” the Amnesty report explains, “defines the crime of hostage-taking as the seizure or detention of any person accompanied with threats to cause them harm including by killing, injuring or continuing to detain them in order to compel a third party, such as a state, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage.”

Hence, Amnesty further argued, “where sufficient evidence exists” against Iranian officials, “the UK must request their extradition and prosecute the officials in line with international fair trial standards.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been critical of the British handling of her case, including one representative standing by in Tehran as she was required on release to sign a confession. In 2017, then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran “simply teaching people journalism” – rather than on holiday.

The Amnesty report also highlighted the cases of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian doctor on death row, Austrian-Iranians Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, German-Iranians Nahid Taghavi and Jamshid Sharmahd, and two British-Iranians Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz (the last also a United States national). It noted the death in custody in March of 83-year-old Australian-Iranian national Shokrollah Jebeli “after the authorities deliberately denied him adequate specialized medical care and withheld his medication for his multiple serious health conditions.”

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