Anoosheh Ashoori, the British-Iranian dual national held in Evin prison in Tehran for more than four years, has had his request for conditional release and an appeal against his 10-year sentence thrown out.
Ashoori was informed by prison authorities that his last legal recourse within Iran was gone last Saturday, the same day that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told she had lost her appeal against a one-year further sentence for alleged propaganda activities against the regime. She has been held in Tehran since 2016, and is waiting to hear when and if she must return to Evin prison. She has already served a five-year sentence.
Ashoori was told that the court had rejected the appeal against his sentence some months earlier, but he was only informed at the weekend. He had also appealed for conditional release on the basis that he had served more than a third of his sentence.
Ashoori’s daughter, Elika, said “the loss of his conditional release appeal means we have now exhausted all avenues and hopes of having our father back with us. The fate of our family is at the mercy of the UK government. They are the ones who will decide whether we see our dad in the near future or when he is an old man in his 70s having wasted a decade of his life in a dirty vermin-infected jail.”
It seems more than a coincidence that the two most high-profile British-Iranian detainees in Iran suffered such major legal setbacks on the same day.
It is possible the Iranians are putting pressure on the UK to revive an aborted prisoner swap, or seeking to strengthen its bargaining hand before a revival of US talks.
His lawyers in the UK also revealed they are still waiting after more than six months to hear from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office whether it will accept their application to grant him diplomatic protection in the same way that previous foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt gave Zaghari-Ratcliffe protection.
The status in theory would elevate the case beyond a consular issue to an one between two states. The current foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has written to the family to say the case is still being examined.
Ashoori’s wife, Sherry Izadi, said the Iranians have openly linked the release of British dual nationals to the payment of a £400m debt owed to Iran by the British government arising from a deal for Chieftain tanks in the 1970s. “The settlement of this debt has become so monumentally important to the Iranians that they justify their actions by arguing it is other countries that are holding Iranian assets hostage”.
She claimed the FCDO may be able to argue that “the payment of this debt will only embolden Iran to take more hostages or the Iranians will spend the money on its own nefarious plans. In my view, the truth is a debt and it must be settled, especially as British courts have decided in favour of Iran.”
She alleged that “the two governments have chosen to indulge in long-term blame games and barter with human lives for financial gain”.
Nigel Edwards QC, the lawyer acting for Ashoori on a pro bono basis, said the family has been repeatedly asked to prove by the Foreign Office that his client was predominantly British, including the date of his naturalisation, the place and language of his education, and the source of his income.
He added that “everything that was needed by way of proof was already in the grasp of the British government by way of government departments”, and insisted: “on any metric Anoosheh’s predominant nationality is British”.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic, who was released from Iran in November 2020 in a prisoner swap, said Iranian authorities look “uniquely negatively” on British prisoners. She said “this may be one reason why the UK has failed to do much to bring its citizens home from Iran in contrast to other countries”.
She said Iranians have long memories about the role of the British in the “Great Game” with Russia in the 19th century and the British role in the 1953 coup that overthrew the then prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh.
She revealed that after two months of her interrogation in Evin prison, the guards gave her the choice of ringing either the British or Australian embassy. She said “the interrogators said to me we strongly recommend you call the Australians because we have problems with the Britons. Don’t go there, it will be worse.”
She called for a more coordinated approach by nations to call out state hostages, and for punishments on countries that deploy the practice.
• This article was amended on 20 October 2021. The coup in Iran that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh was in 1953 not 1959 as an earlier version had it.