The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman has rejected media reports that the British government’s willingness to pay Iran a decades-long debt of about $600 million is related to the potential release of a British mother jailed by the Islamic Republic. “The case of Nazanin Zaghari and the issue of the debt payment to Iran by the British government are separate matters,” Bahram Ghassemi told the Islamic Students’ News Agency today. “Ms. Nazanin Zaghari’s case has been reviewed by the Iran court and she has been sentenced after carrying out the necessary legal process,” he added.
Ghassemi’s reaction came after the British media reported that the government of Theresa May has sought legal advice on the potential transfer of the debt payment to Iran in an effort to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian who is serving a five-year jail term in Iran. The British government also denied the payment is related to Zaghari-Ratcliffee’s case.
Comment: Intelligence agents from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.)’s Sepah-e Sarallah bureau in Kerman Province arrested Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Thomson Reuters charity worker in the UK, at Tehran Airport on April 3, 2016. Her toddler daughter was with her. Five months later, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced her to five years in prison on vague and spurious “national security-related” charges. I.R.G.C. officials also accused her of “executing media and online campaigns as a member of foreign organizations” to foment a “soft overthrow” of Iran’s Islamic regime – allegations she and her family have strenuously denied.
The imprisonment of Zaghari-Ratcliffee was yet another attempt by I.R.G.C. authorities to extort money from the West and score political gains at home. They have also arrested several Iranian-Americans to use as a leverage for potential prisoner exchanges with Washington and extract political concessions and monetary ransom.
In November, her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that I.R.G.C. officials are using his wife as a “bargaining chip” to secure a decades-old £500 million debt for a tank deal from the British government. The International Campaign for Human Rights, an independent US-based rights watchdog, also called on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to release Zaghari-Ratcliffee and end the practice of arresting dual nationals by I.R.G.C. intelligence operatives to “collect ransom money and demonstrate political muscle.”
In August, the Obama administration reluctantly conceded that it delayed a $400 million payment to Iran “to retain maximum leverage” and ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day. Many Republican lawmakers described the payment as a “ransom.”
The recent arrests of dual nationals by Iran show that incentivizing I.R.G.C.’s bad behavior only encourages it to continue taking Americans and Europeans of Iranian origin hostage for financial and political purposes.