Britain slams Iran’s ‘vile ploy’ over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, said he was “blindsided” by Iran's prisoner swap comments. (Free Nazanin Campaign)
Updated 26 April 2019

Britain slams Iran’s ‘vile ploy’ over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

  • Iranian foreign minister suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and an Iranian woman held in Australia
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting against the government

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday dismissed the suggestion of a prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran as a “vile” diplomatic ploy, while her husband told AFP the idea was “almost impossible.”
In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition warrant.
Hunt said there was a “huge difference” between the two women.
“The woman in jail in Australia is facing due process, a proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime,” he told reporters in London.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent — she has done nothing wrong.”
He added: “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it as leverage.
“I’m afraid that is what is happening with this Australian case. They’re saying, we’ll only release this innocent Brit if you’ll do something that suits us diplomatically.”
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband who has been campaigning for her release, said he was “blindsided” by the offer as he followed Zarif’s speech on Twitter and does not think it is the “way forward.”
“It’s clearly a hopeful thing that he was talking about her release explicitly,” he told AFP.
“At the same time, linking her in a public way to a big complicated deal that is almost impossible to do because it’s been made public could easily be a displacement tactic.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives for the Persian New Year.
Iranian authorities accused her of plotting against the government and handed her a five-year jail sentence for sedition.
Britain has taken the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection in a bid to free her.
Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested in 2017 after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.
US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.
Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.
Ratcliffe has also been separated from his daughter Gabriella, who was with her mother when she was detained in Iran and has since remained in the country with her grandparents.
The prospect of Gabriella’s possible return to Britain after her fifth birthday this June is causing Zaghari-Ratcliffe fresh anguish amid her continued detention, he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife was “lifted” by the British government’s decision to grant her diplomatic protection in March.
But he added: “generally, her spirits are gradually sinking now.”

Lebanese security men hit by COVID-19

Updated 02 April 2020

Lebanese security men hit by COVID-19

  • Pets being dumped by owners over fears

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Forces Command confirmed on Wednesday that an officer from the second Land Border Regiment has tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) along with a law enforcement officer at the Guard Brigade of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The army officer is undergoing treatment, and “precautionary measures have been taken,” according to the army, including placing anyone with whom he has recently been in contact in quarantine.

On Wednesday, 16 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, with number of laboratory-confirmed cases in Lebanon now at 479.

Two deaths were announced in the intensive care unit for coronavirus patients — one in their fifties and the other in their sixties — both of whom were suffering from chronic diseases. The Health Ministry’s report stated that Matn in Mount Lebanon (99 cases) and Beirut (89) are the two areas with the highest number of cases.

A TV report falsely claiming that cats and dogs can transmit COVID-19 to humans is believed to be one of the main causes behind an increase in owners abandoning their pets in Lebanon.

According to the Animal Health Department at the Ministry of Agriculture — based on the number of vaccines that Lebanon imports for veterinary use — there are 110,000 dogs and around 55,000 cats kept as pets in the country. Images of dogs that have reportedly been abandoned or, in some cases, poisoned, have been circulating widely on social media. The network responsible for the incorrect report later apologized.

Dr. Bassel Bazzal, head of the Animal Health Service at the Ministry of Agriculture told Arab News, “We witnessed this phenomenon in the last week of February and the first week of March, and then it subsided after the veterinarians’ clarifications on television, based on reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), that there is no evidence that companion animals/pets transmit the virus to humans.”

The Lebanese Veterinary Syndicate, headed by Dr. Ihab Chaaban, had called on pet guardians “to comply with specified vaccination dates, and not to take any information except from relevant scientific authorities.”

Bazzal said that the television report was based on news from Hong Kong that a dog there had been infected with coronavirus by its owner. However, he stressed, that dog did not transmit the virus to others.

He noted that dogs can be infected with a particular strain of coronavirus (IBV), for which a vaccine already exists and that cannot be transmitted to humans.

Jounieh-based veterinarian Rami Mdawar told Arab News that his clinic has already received “three or four” poisoned dogs. “We used to only see poisoning cases sometimes, but after the spread of coronavirus and the false information about dogs transmitting the virus to humans, we are now witnessing abandonment cases of pets and poisoning in many areas.”

While Mdawar said he understood that people who abandoned their pets were probably acting out of “panic and fear for their families,” he also stressed that “it is not based on correct scientific information.” In fact, he said, he has been preventing clients from accompanying their animals into his clinic, because, “it is animals that face the threat of humans, and I do not want the virus to be transmitted to the animals at the clinic.

Mdawar noted that although parliament has approved the Animal Welfare Law which will punish those who kill or harm animals, that law has yet to be implemented.

The veterinarian stressed, however, that the majority of people in Lebanon are not cruel to animals. “It is not all negative,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are adopting dogs, and some have more than one dog in their homes. Other people are actually buying pets at this time because they help them psychologically and comfort them. And that’s not just seniors or people who live alone”.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Veterinary Syndicate in France warned of “the danger of using detergents or hand sterilizers to clean pets” after images of dogs whose legs were burned after their guardians used sanitizers or bleaching products on their pets surfaced online.