Freed British-Iranian woman says UK could have had her released sooner

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe attend a press conference hosted by her local MP Tulip Siddiq following her release from detention in Iran, in London, Monday March 21, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 21 March 2022
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Freed British-Iranian woman says UK could have had her released sooner

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe said the UK government knew that Tehran wanted a $530-million debt to be paid in order for her to be liberated
  • She criticized UK diplomatic efforts over the years to get her out

LONDON: A British-Iranian charity worker held in Tehran for six years said on Monday that the UK government could have helped free her earlier, and called for all “unjustly detained” prisoners in Iran to be released.
Speaking publicly for the first time since returning home, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said the UK government knew that Tehran wanted a historic £400-million ($530-million, 480-million euro) debt to be paid in order for her to be liberated.
“I think it was week two or week three that I was arrested, like six years ago, that they (Iran officials) told me, ‘We want something off the Brits. We will not let you go until such time that we get it’,” she told a news conference.
“And they did keep their promise,” said Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who flew home last Wednesday with retired engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, after London agreed to settle the sum paid by the Shah-era Iranian government for tanks in the 1970s, before the Islamic revolution.
She described herself as “a pawn in the hands of two governments” who had been caught up in a wider dispute that had “nothing to do” with her, and said all those unfairly detained in Iran in similar circumstances should be freed.
“The meaning of freedom is never going to be complete (until) such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families,” she added.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, flanked by her husband, Richard, said little of her experience in prison, including in solitary confinement, but said it “always haunt” her.
She criticized UK diplomatic efforts over the years to get her out, during which time five foreign ministers promised to secure her release.
“I was told many, many times that ‘Oh we’re going to get you home’,” she said.
“What’s happened now should have happened six years ago... I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years,” she said.
Another British-Iranian, Morad Tahbaz, who also has a US passport, is still being held in Iran, and his daughter Roxanne also spoke at the news conference.
“He should have been on the same flight and it should happen to the other dual nationals,” said Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Tahbaz’s sister said earlier on Monday that he had gone on hunger strike and accused the UK government of abandoning him after the two other detainees were released.
“We’ve only just found out before we started this afternoon that he’s been returned to the prison,” Roxanne Tahbaz said.
“Contrary to the public statements that have been made, he’s not being reunited with his family. And he certainly has not been given a furlough, as was part of the deal that was presented to us.
“From the outset, we were always assured by the (British foreign ministry) that my father would be included in any deal that was made to release all of the hostages.
Environmental campaigner Tahbaz, in his 60s, was only released on furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison on Wednesday and was not allowed to leave the country.
After 48 hours he was taken back to prison, reportedly to have an ankle bracelet fitted, but he has not been heard from since.
“We have heard through a relative just now... that he’s been taken from the prison and he’s been taken to an undisclosed location and that he’s gone on hunger strike,” his sister Tarane Tahbaz told BBC radio.
Tarane Tahbaz said that her brother has cancer and had lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in weight.
The foreign ministry said “Morad has now been moved from Evin prison to a residential location in Tehran.”
“We... continue to lobby the Iranian authorities at the highest levels to allow him to return home immediately, as the Iranian government committed to doing,” it added.
A Tehran court in 2020 jailed Tahbaz for 10 years on charges of spying, conspiring with Washington and damaging national security.
He and seven others convicted on similar charges worked with environmental group Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to track endangered species and were arrested on suspicion of espionage in early 2018.
Project manager Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the news and data agency, and was arrested in Tehran on a visit to family in 2016, accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.
Ashoori, a retired engineer from southeast London, was arrested in 2017 and jailed for 10 years on charges of spying for Israel.
Dual nationals from Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States have also been arrested in similar circumstances.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 56 min 22 sec ago
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Updated 23 June 2024
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Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.