Prisoner speaks at Tehran hearing as Iran fails to win UKs permission to make claim over 400m debt
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national held captive in Tehran, has made a tearful appeal to be released, breaking down as she entered an appeal hearing and pleading with the authorities to release her after three-and-a-half years in jail for espionage charges she denies.
Her husband, Richard, said Zaghari-Ratcliffes legs went completely numb as she was taken into the room she fell just outside the door, and had to be sat down on the steps to recover. She also had to be helped into the room by prison guards due to her stress.
At a hearing before the Iranian health commission, she complained she had been deprived of her medication, was sometimes kept in solitary confinement and was suffering from severe anxiety.
The commissioners countered that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had on occasion been deemed to be at risk of self harm so could not be given medication.
The account of her hearing came from British sources, and cannot be independently verified. It also came as two Australians were released from jail in Tehran in a prisoner swap, and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed two detained Iranians were being released by the US.
She disputed the commissioners explanation for the deprivation of medicines, saying some of the prescribed medicines had never been provided and if she wanted to self-harm she could have used other means.
In a letter smuggled out of her prison cell last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe also wrote of her desperation at being separated from her five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who is due to return to London thisautumn to start school and be cared for by her husband. Gabriella has been living in Tehran with her grandmother and been afforded weekly visits to her mother.
At the hearing, the commissioners claimed Zaghari-Ratcliffe had discharged herself from hospital when sent to the psychiatric ward in July. She replied she had been kept in chains and in isolation. After returning to her cell she was reportedly in tears for an hour.
She has been given no indication of when the Iranian judiciary will decide on her appeal.
The Tehran hearing came as Iran failed to win the UK high courts permission to appeal against a judgment debarring it from claiming up to 20m interest from the UK government over an unpaid 400m debt.
The debt, or court award, originated from the non-delivery of contracts to the Iranian ministry of defence (Modsaf) of Chieftain tanks dating back to before 1979. The UK refused to complete the contract after the Shah was deposed, even though Iran had paid the money.
Phillips ruled Iran had no serious chance of succeeding at appeal on the question of a right to interest on the debt since the body to which the award is payable has been a EU-sanctioned entity since 2008.
The ruling is a reverse for Iran in its marathon court battle to enforce an international court order dating back to 2012 awarding Iran 400m over the UKs governments non-completion of the contract to provide Iran with Chieftain tanks.
The UK has put nearly 500m into court as a surety for the award, but insists it cannot make the payment, let alone pay any interest accrued since 2008, on the grounds that Modsaf is a sanctioned entity.
The case affects UK bilateral relations, and despite denials by both the British and Iranian governments is seen as a possible barrier to the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Her plight was not mentioned in Sundays hearing seeking permission to appeal.
Iran has two major routes left to unlock the cash put into court by the UK. The first is a request to the Treasurys office of sanctions implementation (OFSI) to accept voluntarily that the 400m can be paid to the Central Bank of Iran and not to Modsaf. The Central Bank is not an EU-sanctioned entity.
Iran lodged its appeal in writing two years ago, but no ruling has emerged from the OFSI.
In addition, Iran is due to seek a UK court judgment in a case set for March directing the UK to pay the 400m award into the coffers of the Central Bank. Lawyers for the UK government in court made clear to Justice Phillips that they will resist any requirement to pay the money to the Central Bank either in cash or kind since the ultimate beneficiary will in effect be Modsaf.
In theory, the UK would be free after Brexit to change the list of bodies it sanctions, rather than simply duplicate EU decisions, but there is no sign that ministers will make any change to the Iranian sanctions regime.
Speaking before a Commons urgent question, Tulip Siddiq the constituency MP for Zaghari-Ratcliffe said:The UK governments policy of compassionate impotence will not secure the release of my constituent. She claimed the release at the weekend of the Australian blogger Jolie King underlined the power of effective diplomacy by other countries.