Britain has increased pressure on Iran to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt granted the jailed dual-national diplomatic status.
Hunt announced the move, unprecedented in living memory, on Thursday night as part of a renewed effort to bring the 40-year-old mother’s three-year ordeal to an end.
Affording Nazanin diplomatic protection escalates her continued detention to a formal state-to-state issue, and aims to send a clear signal to Tehran.
The measure is used by governments when citizens are believed to have been wronged by another state and affords protections above standard consular assistance offered to British nationals overseas.
It is based on the principle that an injury to a national is an injury to the state itself, lawyers from the organisation Redress said.
In an announcement, Hunt said: “I have not taken this decision lightly. I have considered the unacceptable treatment Nazanin has received over three years, including not just lack of access to medical treatment but also lack of due process in the proceedings brought against her.”
Responding to the foreign secretary’s decision, Nazanin’s husband, Richard, told HuffPost UK: “We are glad he has decided enough is enough – he is right.”
He added that the family were “really pleased” and that the measure had been requested some time ago.
Labour MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted a link to a statement regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Accompanied by a picture of her constituent, she wrote: “Finally! Nazanin has been granted diplomatic protection after nearly 3 years of being separated from her family.
“But the fight continues to bring her home – my statement here.”
In subsequent tweets, she continued: “Today’s announcement marks a vital shift in position. For three years we have fought for the Government to treat Nazanin as a British citizen in this dispute and now it is clear that they will.
“Iran must now do the right thing and free my constituent from her prison cell. Iran has violated numerous international human rights standards, including: solitary confinement, no fair trial, denial of medical care and has threatened the Ratcliffe family.
“We will not rest, I will not rest, until Nazanin is reunited with Gabriella and Richard. #FreeNazanin.”
Nazanin, who has dual British and Iranian citizenship and is mum to a young daughter, Gabriella, may not learn of the news until Saturday, as prison phone calls are not allowed until the weekend.
However, affording Nazanin diplomatic protection will not immediately secure her release and it is distinct from diplomatic immunity, which is only used by accredited diplomats.
The charity worker was detained while travelling from Iran to London in April 2016 on suspicion of plotting against the country’s government – a charge she firmly denies. She was sentenced to five years in prison after a short closed trial.
She had been in the country with her daughter to visit her parents, who live there, and to celebrate the Iranian New Year.
A series of health scares increased the urgency of the campaign for her release. Her husband and the Foreign Office have alleged that she has been denied access to medical care recommended by doctors.
Nazanin began a hunger strike in January 2019 but ended the protest after three days having lost 3kg in weight.
Hunt added in a statement: “Iran is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. I know there are many in Iran who understand the unjustness of this situation.
“No government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage so I call on Iran to release this innocent woman so she can be reunited with her family.”
The Iranian Embassy in London was contacted for comment.