Britain said Thursday it will grant “diplomatic protection” to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national who is serving a five-year prison term in Iran, as part of the government’s continuing efforts to secure her release.
“Affording diplomatic protection in Nazanin’s case represents formal recognition by the British government that her treatment fails to meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevates it to a formal state to state issue,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Nazanin was arrested on spying charges and is accused of plotting against the Tehran government. She was sentenced in 2016.
The Foreign Office argued that the legal proceedings brought against Nazanin failed to meet international standards.
The latest move by the UK will bring a consular case to the level of a dispute between the two states.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an innocent woman who has spent the last three years in an Iranian jail, separated from her daughter and husband,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.
“We have been working hard to secure her release but despite repeated efforts have not been successful. We have not even been able to secure her the medical treatment she urgently needs despite assurances to the contrary.”
Hunt said he has decided that the UK will take a step that is extremely unusual and exercise diplomatic protection.
He said his decision is “an important diplomatic step which signals to Tehran that its behavior is totally wrong”.
“It is unlikely to be a magic wand that leads to an overnight result. But it demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent and the UK will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly.”
Diplomatic protection is a mechanism under international law according to which a state may seek to secure reparation for injury to one of its nationals on the basis that the second state has committed an internationally wrongful act against the national.
The British government’s move comes nearly three years after she was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport with her young daughter while boarding a flight back to the UK after a family visit in Iran.
“Iran is one of the oldest civilizations 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,” Hunt said.