What diplomatic protection will mean for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Rarely used procedure implemented by Foreign Office to increase pressure on Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter, Gabriella, now five
(Image credit: Twitter)

British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been given diplomatic protection by the UK Foreign Office in an escalation of the campaign to get her freed from prison in Iran.

In a statement published this morning, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s department said: “The Foreign Secretary has today decided that the UK will exercise diplomatic protection in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as part of the Government’s continuing efforts to secure her release.”

Diplomatic protection is a “rarely used tool under international law, which gives a country the right to challenge another state over the treatment of one of its nationals or companies”, says Sky News. It formally elevates a dispute from being a consular matter to being a formal state-to-state issue, and officially functions as a way for countries to take action on behalf of a national whose rights have been breached by another country.

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Diplomatic protection can take the form of “consular action, political and economic pressure, negotiations with the other state, judicial proceedings or other forms of peaceful dispute settlement”, says the i news site.

It is different to diplomatic immunity, which applies to accredited diplomats and provides them with immunity from prosecution for most crimes when serving abroad.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport with her one-year-old daughter, Gabriella, in April 2016 following a visit to her family. She was subsequently sentenced to five years for spying - an accusation she has denied.

Her daughter, now four, lives with her maternal grandparents in Iran, and has not seen her British father for three years.

The move to give Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection is based on UK government claims that her treatment “fails to meet Iran’s obligations under international law”, and is “likely to lead to increased tensions between the two countries”, The Guardian suggests.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale says that the jailed woman’s new legal status will not force Iran to change the way it treats her, but “will allow Britain to raise her case with greater ease at international forums such as the United Nations”.

Hunt said today that the move “is unlikely to be a magic wand that leads to an overnight result”, but added that it “demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent and the UK will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly”.

This is first time in recent history that this diplomatic tool has been implemented, with Hunt admitting the step was “very unusual”.

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