Iran ambassador should be summoned ‘every day’ until Zaghari-Ratcliffe released: UK lawmaker

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured with her husband Richard, has been in jail for 800 days, having been sentenced to five years after she was accused of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. (AP Photo)
Updated 12 June 2018

Iran ambassador should be summoned ‘every day’ until Zaghari-Ratcliffe released: UK lawmaker

  • Foreign secretary should summon Tehran’s diplomat over detention of British-Iranian, says Lord Cormack.
  • Supporters held a vigil Monday outside the Foreign Office in London, lighting 800 candles for every day the 40-year-old charity worker has spent in prison.

LONDON: Iran’s ambassador in London should be made to go to the Foreign Office every day that British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains incarcerated, a UK lawmaker said Tuesday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in jail for 800 days, having been sentenced to five years after she was accused of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK Parliament, Lord Cormack asked why Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “does not summon the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office every day until Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is released.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied the charges against her and was denied temporary release to celebrate her daughter Gabriella’s fourth birthday on Monday. Instead, Gabriella had to spend her birthday in jail with her mother.

Supporters held a vigil on Monday outside the Foreign Office in London, lighting 800 candles for every day the 40-year-old charity worker has spent in prison.

Responding to Lord Cormack, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a Foreign Office minister, said no opportunity was missed to raise the issue but that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s continued incarceration was not the ambassador’s decision. “Those calls are made in Tehran,” he said.

“The situation in terms of human rights — and I speak as a human rights minister — is dire, not just for the people of other nationalities or indeed joint nationalities but for Iranians themselves.”

Iran does not recognize the concept of dual nationality — a fact which has caused immense problems for journalists working for the BBC’s Persian service, most of whom also hold dual nationality. This issue was also raised at the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Iranian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the entire staff of 152 people working for the BBC Persian service, accusing them of crimes against national security.

Tehran has for years allegedly used blackmail and intimidation to harass both the BBC staff and their relatives and associates. The BBC said 20 families of its Persian service staff have received death threats over the past nine years and 86 family members have been called in for questioning by Iranian intelligence agents.

In a video compiled by the BBC, one journalist said her parents’ passports had been canceled, meaning they could not visit her in the UK and another said she was denied permission to see her dying father.

Another female journalist said Iranian agents had threatened to spread rumors about her sex life and disseminate pictures. They had also used the same tactic against men.

The BBC has appealed to the UN to intervene to stop the harassment.

Lord Ahmad on Tuesday told the House of Lords that many BBC staff and their families had suffered hardship because their assets had been frozen.

“We raised the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Council in March and several times with counterparts in the Iranian Foreign Ministry,” he said. “Alastair Burt, minister for Middle East, also raised it on April 29 and we continue to implore upon (sic) the Iranian authorities.”

The subject was introduced into the Lords’ debate on Tuesday by Lord Michael Grade, a former chairman of the BBC.

Twelve million people in Iran listen to the Persian service, which he said was a vital source of impartial news.

The continued targeting of BBC staff was “a very serious state of affairs,” said Lord Grade.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead asked what the British government was doing to ensure the BBC employees under investigation would receive better treatment than Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Lord Ahmad said that “we are concerned about the charges and wider activities of the Iranian authorities toward the BBC staff and continue to raise it with them.”

The BBC did not respond to a request for comment on the debate.

Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

Updated 05 April 2020

Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

LONDON: As warm, sunny weather beckoned across Europe, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons on Sunday to exercise self-discipline in “an increasingly challenging time” as the country saw a record 24-hour jump in coronavirus deaths that even outpaced the daily toll in hard-hit Italy.
Britain recorded 708 new coronavirus deaths Saturday while Italy reported 631 deaths that day. With 621 more deaths reported on Sunday, Britain has 4,934 virus deaths overall among 47, 806 cases. Those coming down with the virus in the UK include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the health secretary, England’s chief medical official and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
There are wide fears that Johnson’s Conservative government did not take the virus seriously enough at first and that beautiful spring weather will tempt Britons and others to break social distancing rules.
In an address to the nation to be televised later Sunday, the 93-year-old queen said the pandemic had caused enormous disruptions, bringing grief, financial difficulties and daunting challenges to everybody. It is only the fourth time since her reign began in 1953 that she has given such an address.
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she said in pre-released remarks. “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”
The queen’s son, Charles, on Friday remotely opened a vast temporary hospital for corona patients in a London convention center after completing a week of isolation. Johnson still had a fever Friday but his infected pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds, tweeted she is “on the mend” after a week in bed.
As the sun shone and the temperatures rose toward 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sunbathing in public places was not allowed and the UK might even ban outdoor exercise if people still ‘’flout the rules.”
“The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home,” Hancock told Sky TV. “But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that — it’s quite unbelievable, frankly, to see that.”
As the numbers of infections rose, the deputy head of Britain’s National Health Service Providers said the agency needs to focus on quickly increasing ventilator capacity and getting more protective equipment for health care workers.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,’’ Saffron Cordery told Sky TV.
Restrictions on movement vary from country to country. In Germany and Britain, residents can get out to exercise and walk their dogs, as well as go to the supermarket, the post office and other essential tasks. Yet in Serbia and South Africa, dog walking is not allowed.
In France, heat-seeking drones have been whizzing over Fontainebleau forest to identify rule-breakers after the former royal estate in the Paris suburbs was closed to the public. That high-tech measure has been coupled with more traditional police patrols on horseback and roadblocks that turn back the cars of those seeking to escape urban areas.
In Sweden, authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants are still open.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and blessed palms for Palm Sunday in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica. Usually tens of thousands of faithful would have crowded the square outside to attend a papal Mass.
Holy Thursday and Easter services will beheld the same way. In the pope’s native Argentina, the faithful were using plants at home for a “virtual” blessing during a livestream of the Palm Sunday service.
Italians have not been immune to lure of the good weather either, even though the country has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 15,000.
Top Italian officials took to national television after photos were published showing huge crowds out shopping in Naples, Rome, Genoa and even the hard-hit Veneto city of Padua. Lombardy vice governor Fabrizio Sala said cellphone date showed 38% of the region’s people were out and about — the highest figure since March 20.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that all the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown began on March 10 risked being reversed.
As deaths and infections soared across the United States, new infections were slowing in Italy and Spain. Rome’s main hospital for coronavirus infections reported that, for the first time since Italy’s outbreak began, more patients were discharged than admitted.
Spain announced 6,023 confirmed new infections Sunday, taking its national tally to 130,759 but down from an increase of 7,026 infections in the previous day. Spain’s confirmed new virus deaths dropped for the third straight day, to 674 — the first time daily deaths have fallen below 800 in the past week.
“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
At week when millions of Spaniards typically go on holiday, data suggested most were following lockdown regulations. Transport authorities on Sunday reported an 85% decrease in long-distance public transport and an 80% drop in the use of private vehicles compared to a normal day.
Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and more than 65,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate under-reporting by some governments.
Almost 250,000 people have recovered from the virus, which is spread by microscopic droplets from coughs or sneezes. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. The World Health Organization says 95% of the known coronavirus deaths in Europe have been in people over 60.
The rapid spread of the virus in the United States has prompted a chaotic scramble for desperately needed medical equipment and protective gear, prompting intense squabbling between the states and the federal government.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised China for sending 1,000 ventilators, while President Donald Trump claimed that states are making inflated requests for supplies. In mixed messages, Trump warned that the country could be headed into its toughest weeks yet and see many deaths but also said he’s eager to get the US economy back on track.
The number of people infected in the US has soared to more than 312,000 as the fatalities climbed past 8,500.
New York City is the epicenter of the US outbreak but more than 400 people have also died in Louisiana, where state authorities have been rushing to find ventilators. Michigan has more than 14,000 infections and 500 deaths, mainly in Detroit.
Beijing authorities said Sunday about 78,000 people had visited cemeteries in the Chinese capital for annual “tomb-sweeping” ceremonies, down 90% over last year. Thousands of others paid their respects through an online portal that allowed them to light a candle, burn incense and offer wine and flowers, all virtually.