A British official passed on a message to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe that she “needed to sign a confession” to leave Iran, but no UK official “forced” her to do so, a Foreign Office minister has said.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons on the confession of the British-Iranian dual national, Amanda Milling claimed a “UK official was present” at the airport to help “facilitate” both Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori’s departure on the day in March when they were to be freed.
Ms Milling said the official “passed on the message from the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) that she needed to sign a confession” and that given the situation Iran put her in at the airport, she decided to sign the document.
The Foreign Office minister stressed no UK official “forced” the charity worker to sign it but Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, said she did “not accept” that the confession the political prisoner signed was not “forced”.
The urgent question in the House of Commons came after Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, during which she spoke about her imprisonment and revealed she was forced to sign a “false confession” in front of a UK Government witness before she was allowed to leave Iran.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told Sky News it was “startling” the UK Government required her to sign the document,
He also claimed that his wife was “worried” that speaking about it would have an impact on her family in Iran and would be used in TV propaganda.
Ms Milling told the Commons: “The treatment of Nazanin by the Islamic Republic of Iran has been horrendous. Her ordeal was exacerbated when Iran made clear they would not allow her to leave Tehran airport unless Nazanin signed a document.
“A UK official was present to help facilitate both Nazanin and Anoosheh Ashoori’s departure, and passed on the message from the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) that she needed to sign a confession.
“Given the situation Iran put Nazanin in at the airport, she took the decision to sign the document. No UK official forced Nazanin to do so.”
Ms Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said: “For days in the run-up to her release the Iranian revolutionary guard had tried to make Nazanin write out and sign a document listing the crimes she was wrongly accused of, admitting guilt for them, requesting clemency and promising not to sue or criticise the Iranian government.
“At Tehran airport on March 16, on the day she was eventually allowed to fly back to the UK, she was asked again to do this by Iran, but instead she tore up the piece of paper. It was only when a UK official told her that she had to sign it if she was going to board the plane that was waiting to take her home that she finally caved and gave Iran what they wanted.
“Nazanin returned home but the toll this took on my constituent after six years of detention is unimaginable and unacceptable and I do not accept what the minister is saying, that no-one forced her.”
Ms Siddiq asked: “What was the reason that my constituent was required to sign a forced confession? Did the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister personally authorise UK officials to advise Nazanin to sign the forced confession or was that decision taken by officials without their knowledge?”
The MP also asked what the “legal status” of the confession was, and whether it could be annulled.
Ms Milling reiterated “the UK official did not force Nazanin” to sign the document.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the Government and “particularly the Prime Minister” have “serious questions to answer over its gross mishandling over the detention of her and other British nationals in Iran”.
He added: “We recognise the sensitive and and difficult negotiations that led to the agreement for Nazanin’s release but it is incredibly concerning that she was forced to sign a last-minute false confession as a condition to her release.”
Mr Ratcliffe, who watched the Foreign Office minister being grilled by MPs from the public gallery, told Sky News about his wife’s confession: “I was sitting at home getting texts from her and I was furious that this happened.
“I’m hugely pleased that she’s home, but I think it was startling that the British Government also required her to sign that confession.”
He added Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “worried” that speaking about the confession would have an impact on her family in Iran and would be used in TV propaganda, adding: “It felt very important that she did it. There’s a lot of friends she’s got left behind who are sitting in prison cells, who are being abused in horrible ways, and she has a platform. There is always a risk, we’ll see what happens next.”
During the urgent question, the Government was also asked to confirm whether Iran’s revolutionary guard would be removed from a list of foreign terrorist organisations as a result of negotiations over the country’s nuclear deal.
Conservative former cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said: “Can I ask the minister in light of that and all the other malign activities of the Iranian regime that we know of, why is it that British officials in Vienna are currently supporting an agreement that would remove the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) from the foreign terrorist list?
“Are those reports correct and if so, will the minister give me an assurance the United Kingdom Government will not put its name to any such agreement?”
Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) could be heard to shout “shocking!” and “Answer!” as Mr Jenrick asked the question.
Ms Milling replied that talks in Vienna had “reached the end”, adding: “The deal represents a significant, comprehensive and fair offer to Iran which would benefit the Iranian people. Iran should urgently take the offer on the table because there will not be a better one.”