From the BBC:
Michael Gove has come under fire for saying he didn’t know what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested in 2016.
Then he’s in the same position as most of us.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Mr Gove had “compounded” Mr Johnson’s “cavalier approach to international diplomacy”.
Firstly, why did the BBC’s Andrew Marr bring up the topic of Zaghari-Ratcliffe with Gove, who is the Environment Secretary? What’s this got to do with him?
Secondly, if the welfare of Zaghari-Ratcliffe hangs in the balance and her fortunes could swing one way or the other based on what ministers back in the UK say, perhaps it would be better if the likes of the BBC refrained from raising the topic on live television with politicians not involved in her case?
What is happening here is obvious. The BBC want to maintain the narrative that the government is in disarray, and so Marr put the question to Gove hoping to stir the pot a little. Unless Gove repeated word-for-word what Boris did they could use it to manufacture more outrage, and sure enough that’s what’s happened. Boris is now saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe went to Iran on holiday, Gove says he doesn’t know, and my guess is the Foreign Office documents would tell us a lot more than the BBC is right now. They seem to be playing the role of mouthpiece for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, uncritically accepting and repeating whatever he has to say.
I found this interesting:
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport with her 18-month-old daughter in April 2016, one of several Iranians with dual nationality to be detained over a period of months.
If Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an Iranian citizen, then what has this got to do with the Foreign Office? I’ve always thought the unwritten rule of diplomacy was that dual citizens generally have to deal with each of their home countries without help from the other. If you’re a dual British and Greek citizen and the Greeks snatch you from a beach in Mykonos and enroll you in national service, the British government won’t help you: it’s an internal matter.
I can understand why Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband started making noises about his wife’s arrest and imprisonment – who wouldn’t? – but in doing so he’s got the Foreign Office publicly involved which has led to Boris Johnson’s allegedly misguided statements. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if things are less clear cut than they seem. In the absence of any proper reporting, I’m going to give myself license to speculate a little.
First I’ll note that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has retained her Iranian name, which suggests her Iranian nationality was not something she wished to keep hidden. On the contrary, she probably used to to good effect during her career working for a political lobby-group calling itself a charity and the BBC. We already know that the BBC was training Iranian journalists, which appears to be in breach of Iranian law. Why the BBC thinks it has any business training Iranian journalists I don’t know, but their doing so appears to have landed several of them in jail. Well done, Auntie! So it may well be that one of these imprisoned journalists has been asked to name Iranians overseas involved with training journalists or writing articles critical of the Iranian government, and one of them has fingered Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Could it be that she has participated in training sessions, or contributed to articles, that the Iranian government interprets as being seditious? Might they have evidence of this? It’s not beyond the bounds of plausibility, is it? She was doing something for these organisations, so what was it? If she was solely involved with water-well projects in Bolivia or fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone and left the subject of Iran well alone, surely her former employers – who are indignantly expressing their outrage – would have come forward and said so, wouldn’t they?
So here’s my guess: she’s used her Iranian nationality in a professional capacity and someone in Iran has spilled her name. The Iranian authorities have got further details – perhaps an article with her name on or some course notes – and decided they were subversive. With her being an Iranian citizen with family in Iran, they’ve seen it as their business and their right to nab her at the airport and put her on trial. Now this doesn’t mean she deserves to be in jail or she’s been subject to a fair trial, but it is more plausible than the Iranians simply nabbing someone for the hell of it. Perhaps the Iranian government doesn’t like its citizens working for organisations like the BBC and “charities” actively involved in politics which run contrary to their interests, in which case Zaghari-Ratcliffe really ought to have realised this before she accepted a job with them, but I think there is more to this story than we’re being told.
Unfortunately, we only have the word of her husband to go on. He is being paraded around the BBC amid calls for Boris Johnson to resign, seemingly unaware he is being used as a political pawn. Nobody gives a shit about his wife, other than him: everyone else is only interested in making the Tories look bad. He may soon come to regret his decision to participate in this circus. In 2015 I said this in relation to the execution of the ringleaders of the Bali Nine:
By all means, make the principled stand I described earlier but whipping up a media frenzy which overlooks the pair’s incontrovertible guilt and their leadership role, complete with accusations of corruption, threats of boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, and the casual dismissal of the sovereign right of Indonesia to try and sentence criminals apprehended on their own turf in accordance with their own laws. There were times when the Australians might as well have said “Listen brown folk, we know you’re all corrupt and we are your superior neighbours, so let our citizens go free and we’ll allow you to sit with us at the next regional summit.” Would Australia have dared to behave like this had the two ended up on death row in California? Would they hell. Would Australia have been happy about the Indonesian government protesting an Australian court ruling in such a manner? No they would not.
Whatever chance the condemned men had of being spared before they were shot on 29th April, this was surely extinguished by the frankly disgraceful behaviour of Australia’s politicians and media. No doubt the Indonesians will be blamed for years for the death of a “young, shy Australian man” and his mate who is “funny, articulate… charismatic and has a very caring personality”. But Australia ought to shoulder the blame for ensuring their sentence would be carried out by insulting the Indonesians to such an extent that they had little choice but to do otherwise.
If Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband has chosen to take the route of whipping up Britain’s media into a frenzy over the inexcusable jailing of his wife by the Iranian regime, he had better be absolutely damned sure there isn’t the slightest shred of evidence that can be used to justify their actions. Unless she’s led a squeaky-clean professional life having nothing to do with Iran and maintaining only personal and family connections, then he’s playing a very dangerous game. The Iranians have made a stand on this, suggesting they are deeply unhappy about something she has done. Now the matter has turned into an international incident, the Iranians will be forced to either double-down or release her. If the have anything which could even semi-plausibly be used against her – such as testimony from an Iranian journalist trained by the BBC – which option do you think they’ll take?
I might be wrong on all of this, and some people might be annoyed that I’m engaged in wild speculation. But if nobody is going to do any proper reporting and the BBC – which seems complicit in this whole mess – is simply going to serve as a mouthpiece for the woman’s husband, then I make no apologies.