Daniel Zeichner MP with Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office in LondonDaniel Zeichner MP

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner joined Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, in Westminster on Tuesday (9/11) to support Ratcliffe’s campaign to secure his wife’s freedom. Ratcliffe was into the 17th day of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office when Zeichner visited.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Tehran since April 2016, and was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 for plotting to topple the Iranian government, claims that she has always denied. Though her sentence ended in March 2021, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was further charged with propaganda activities against the Iranian government. and was sentenced to one year on parole in April. She is not allowed to leave the country. 

Richard Ratcliffe claims that Nazanin was imprisoned as leverage for a debt owed by the UK over its failure to deliver tanks to Iran in 1979, and was thus being used as a bargaining tool in negotiations between rival states. He is calling on the Government to repay the £400m debt owed to Iran. 

Zeichner said in a statement that Richard is an "incredible man, highlighting the failures of the Government to protect its citizens abroad."

"His determination was clear to me," Zeichner stated, "and we discussed how his campaign has put the plight of British citizens detained in Iran back in the hearts and minds of people across the country. I passed on the messages of solidarity I have received from constituents here in Cambridge and affirmed to him that Cambridge stands with him."

Zeichner continued that The Government "must do more" to resolve the ongoing detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, alongside all of the British-Iranian nationals who are currently detained in Iran. "Their freedom is so wrongly being used as a political bargaining chip, which has resulted in an unimaginable ordeal for them and their families. I spoke to Richard’s Mum, who conveyed how difficult this has been for Richard, Gabriella, and their extended family."

"The Government’s strategy so far has clearly not worked. This is a sustained failure of British diplomacy."

Dominic Raab, the former foreign secretary, said the government was doing everything it could to ensure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s freedom. When asked if he thought the payment of the debt would enable her release, Raab said that it was “not clear,” and that he did not think there should be a “quid pro quo.” 

A source inside the Conservative Party told the Guardian that the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the defence secretary were all willing to pay the debt to Iran, so “unless they are not telling the truth,” it remained unclear what “under the British Constitution” was preventing them from doing so. 

According to the source, mechanisms had been put in place to allow the money to be transferred through humanitarian channels, and the Iranian government has committed that the money would not be transferred to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said that she had a “a useful call” this week with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in which he reiterated that the  £400m debt must be paid. 

Zeichner’s visit came as concerns for Ratcliffe’s welfare increased, with many of his friends and family suggesting that he stop the hunger strike to avoid doing permanent damage to his health.

"Labour has called on the Government to work with international allies to do everything it can to secure their immediate and unconditional release", Zeichner added."This dreadful situation must be resolved urgently.”