Anoosheh Ashoori’s family to meet Liz Truss as they seek diplomatic protection

The Foreign Office initially told Ashoori’s family Middle East minister, James Cleverly, could meet them

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has agreed to meet the family of the British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori who is being held in Evin prison in Tehran. They are calling on the Foreign Office to give him the same diplomatic protection as that granted to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The move comes as Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, enters the 11th day of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office. He is pressing the UK government to pay the £400m debt it owes to Iran from a court case dating back to the 1970s. Iran has made it clear that although the debt is a standalone issue, its payment would help with the release of British-Iranian detainees.

In an act of solidarity between the two campaigns, Ashoori’s son, Aryan, was due to join Ratcliffe outside the department.

The two campaigns support each other, although there is some discomfort among Ashoori’s supporters that the media and some politicians have persistently given a higher profile to the Ratcliffe case.

The Foreign Office had initially told Ashoori’s family that the Middle East minister, James Cleverly, could meet them and his lawyers who are working pro-bono. They insisted that as Ratcliffe met Truss last week they should also be entitled to see the foreign secretary.

The meeting between Ratcliffe and Truss was largely unproductive, but it was acknowledged that the foreign secretary had shown her personal concern.

In theory diplomatic protection elevates a case to state dispute, making it no longer a consular case. It is arguable how useful diplomatic protection, granted by a previous foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, has proved for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Ashooori was given a 10-year jail sentence for allegedly spying, and has had two brief furloughs before returning to jail. He has been on hunger strike in the past, and so far has served four years.

Ashoori’s family are likely to ask Truss for her views on remarks by Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian foreign minister, who claimed he confronted Truss as to why the UK had at the last minute backed out of a deal that would have seen a humanitarian exchange of prisoners including Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He alleged the US, 24 hours before the exchange, “suddenly announced to the British to wait and to make this exchange conditional on the nuclear talks … at the 90th minute, the Americans connect a completely humanitarian issue to the Vienna talks and the nuclear issue, and prevent this exchange. This is not at all acceptable and issues must be separated.”

There is no independent verification of his account, but UK sources have admitted they were very close in June to a prisoner swap.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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