The Media and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

I woke up this morning to news that Boris Johnson had apparently made a gaffe regarding a certain Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who currently resides in an Iranian prison. The media is going absolutely mental over it, and Twitter mobs and Labour politicians are piling on.

The story is that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, was jailed in Tehran after being arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016, charged with plotting to overthrow the government. The full charges have not been made public, but she denies any wrongdoing. According to her family, she went to Iran to visit her parents, but Boris Johnson said something quite different during a parliamentary enquiry:

A charity fears a British-Iranian woman held in Iran could have her prison sentence doubled following remarks made by the foreign secretary.

Boris Johnson told a Commons committee that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested at Tehran Airport in 2016, was “teaching people journalism”.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation said she was seeing family and urged Mr Johnson to correct his “serious mistake”.

All the reporting on this is focused on Johnson’s gaffe and how he should immediately retract, explain, apologise, and resign. Everyone is piling in, using the incident as an excuse to bash the hapless Theresa May and the Tory government. What is missing, unsurprisingly, is some actual reporting.

Now perhaps Johnson has made an enormous blunder which could see Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence doubled – the Iranians have seized on his remarks to threaten her with this – but nobody seems interested in asking why he made them and what they were based on. As is so often the case when Brits are jailed abroad, everyone is simply taking the family’s word that she is thoroughly innocent, the Iranians have no case against her, and Johnson made a catastrophic error.

Now it could be that the Iranians have simply decided to chuck this woman in jail for no reason as the media implies, but we should at least look a little closer. So, firstly:

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has worked for the charity the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the BBC

This would be the same Thompson Reuters foundation that, among other things, provides pro-bono legal advice for refugees and immigrants to fight deportation from the USA:

The US has long prided itself on championing human rights and the rights of those fleeing persecution;  between 1980-2016 the country received approximately 70,000 refugees annually.

Yet on 6 March 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that suspended the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and banned people from six majority-Muslim countries – Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the country for 90 days.

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a leading non-profit providing legal representation to refugees, immediately mobilised thousands of pro bono lawyers at airports to assist incoming immigrants and refugees. Besides offering direct legal advice on the ground, IRAP identified an urgent need to create a ‘one-stop shop’ online to inform affected individuals on their rights, and available legal options.

We also get gems like this:

Worsening droughts, storms, floods and sea level rise can exacerbate poverty and create more vulnerability in the form of child marriage and human trafficking. But a global transition to clean energy also presents huge opportunities to spur development and improve life for billions of people. By opening up the conversation to include the ‘human cost’, we are able to connect with new audiences, and forge partnerships that can help build more resilient and sustainable societies.

Now I don’t want to defend the Iranians here, but it’s not too difficult to see how they reached the conclusion that anyone working for this outfit is involved in political activity, not mundane charity work. So did anyone in the media bother to find out what her work involved, and whether any of it concerned Iran? Of course not, but one would think this was relevant, no? I’ve also not been able to find if she was born in Iran, and if so when she left. We have plenty of footage of indignant family members, but precious little about the actual person other than a few photogenic pics of her with a cute kid.

Note that she also worked for the BBC. Now according to this Guardian report:

Although the exact reasons for her incarceration are unclear, Iranian authorities have hinted that her arrest is linked to the 2014 imprisonment of several employees of an Iranian technology news website, according to Amnesty International. They were given long prison terms for participating in a BBC journalism training course. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a project assistant at the BBC’s Media Action, the broadcaster’s international development charity, in 2008-09. The BBC is loathed by the Iranian establishment, mainly for its Persian service, which is watched by millions of Iranians via illegal satellite dishes.

So was Zaghari-Ratcliffe involved in delivering this training course or not? The BBC has gone all-in on the outrage, but I’ve yet to see a statement saying:

“We confirm the BBC provided journalism training to Iranian citizens, but at no point was Zaghari-Ratcliffe involved.”

One wonders why not.

In other words, Boris Johnson is being castigated for suggesting Zaghari-Ratcliffe was involved in an activity – training Iranian journalists – which the BBC appears to have carried out quite openly at a time when she worked there. If training Iranian journalists is such a horrendous crime that Johnson has endangered this woman’s liberty by suggesting she was involved in it, then why is the BBC doing it?

I’m not saying the Iranians have a case here, or that the poor woman deserves to be in jail. But it appears her employment in a highly political “charity” and the BBC, which peddles fake news and engages in political interference as a matter of course, has been used as a basis for her incarceration. Presumably she thought both organisations were whiter-than-white and her role in each wouldn’t be viewed with suspicion by the authorities when she travelled to Iran. That has proved to be a costly mistake.

Boris Johnson appears to have put his foot in it as usual, but if anyone was really interested in the truth of this we’d see some proper reporting. Instead, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate is being used as an excuse to bash the Tory government and score some cheap political points. This is handy for the media of course, because it detracts attention from the fact that their employees are being thrown in jail for peddling political propaganda. In all of this, nobody is looking very good.

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11 thoughts on “The Media and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

  1. Agreed. I think it was best for Boris not to say it, but I’m rather sceptical of many ‘just popped into Iran to see my parents’. You’re a journalist involved in BBC pissing off the Iranians. Why would you take that risk? Even if you’re not guilty, you know the regime and their legal system.

  2. The very mention of Boris Johnson (Donald Trump similarly) always provokes unthinking howls of outrage among the progressive left and this is probably because he is well thought of by people whom the progressive left consider belong within their own natural fiefdom.

  3. “In all of this, nobody is looking very good.”

    Could be intended to keep the bloody Saudi purge and the Qatari confirmation that there never was a popular uprising against Assad off of the front pages, further demonise Iran and keep Netanyahu happy.

  4. I would also want to know why the BBC takes it upon itself to educate Iranian journalists? I imagine its not just classes in shorthand, but also includes the sort of biased political campaigning (on ‘poverty’, ‘Climate change’, arms sales etc.) in which the BBC routinely and enthusiastically participates.

    Quite a few of their own ‘journalists’ are in need of training in any case – especially in maths, stats, asking questions and not coming to a story with preconceptions.

    Maybe licence-payers money would be better spent in Broadcasting House rather than Iran?

  5. “media … employees are being thrown in jail for peddling political propaganda”: whereas here I hope we’d be manly enough to proceed straight to the gibbets.

  6. And if she is indeed a dual Iranian-British citizen, then the British government unfortunately has no business in trying to protect her from the authorities of the other country of her citizenship when she travelled there voluntarily.

  7. the British government unfortunately has no business in trying to protect her from the authorities of the other country of her citizenship when she travelled there voluntarily.

    The trouble is, we have become so used to our own citizens trying to undermine and overthrow the government and its institutions that we’ve forgotten other countries still take this quite seriously. A lot of remainers would be in jail by now in other countries, including MPs.

  8. I have an Iranian friend, she converted and got married to a Catholic, she knows she can never go back to Iran.

    How come this journalist could not work out that she should not go back… With all the whining I hope they keep her locked up.

  9. How come this journalist could not work out that she should not go back

    I’m still waiting for information on how she got there. Was she a citizen and traveled on an Iranian passport? Or did she need a visa? Either way, she ought to have been aware that the Iranian authorities might take an unhealthy interest in her.

  10. I’ve not gone into the specifics of this case, but fwiw just a sliver more context: ‘once Iranian, always Iranian’.
    My son-in-law is Iranian by birth, now naturalised British. His parents fled Iran with their sons soon after the revolution to prevent them being drafted into the army during the war against Iraq. He knows he can never go back because of the Iranian nationality law, which regards all Iranian-born people as Iranian, whether or not they have acquired a different nationality. In effect Iranian nationality cannot be renounced, however many generations follow through the male line. Since this law also applies Iranian citizenship to the wife and children of male Iranians (not female), this means that my daughter and my grandchildren are technically Iranian, too! I’m English btw.

  11. I’ve not gone into the specifics of this case, but fwiw just a sliver more context: ‘once Iranian, always Iranian’.

    I did know this, as other countries take the same approach. A friend of mine was born in Greece and emigrated to the US with his parents at age 3, where he grew up as a US citizen. He never held Greek citizenship since he arrived in the US, but the Greeks still considered him eligible for national service on the grounds he was once a Greek citizen and shall forever remain so. He had to avoid the country for a few years, until he was old enough that he couldn’t be drafted.

    But aside from that, I still don’t know if this lady held an Iranian passport. Nobody seems willing or able to tell us. If she did, and she was a self-declared Iranian citizen, then I’m at a loss to understand what any of this has to do with the British foreign office.

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