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The Guardian - UK

Zaghari-Ratcliffe says Foreign Office complicit in forcing her to confess

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: ‘They told me that “you won’t be able to get on the plane”.’ Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has accused the UK Foreign Office of being complicit in forcing her to sign a letter of false confession to the Iranian government as part of the last-minute terms of her release in March.

She signed the letter at Tehran airport as she waited to find out whether she would be allowed to leave Iran after six years in detention.

The allegations, in a 20-page letter to the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, exclusively obtained by the Guardian, suggest she was shocked when she found out the Foreign Office had agreed this condition as part of her release, adding its actions had “taken a huge personal toll on her and caused her severe trauma”.

She says in the letter written by her lawyers from the human rights group Redress, who have called for a full investigation in to the Foreign Office, that “UK officials were complicit in an unlawful act by the Iranian authorities, telling her that she must sign a false confession in circumstances where she effectively had no other choice”.

The lawyers claim “the actions of UK officials appear contrary to the UK policy not to ‘participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or mistreatment for any purpose’”. The letter adds that the Foreign Office’s actions made the status of other UK detainees in Iran more precarious.

The revelations suggest the Foreign Office and Downing Street have at best not been straightforward in revealing the terms for her release.

In the letter, the lawyers from Redress say Zaghari-Ratcliffe asserts the requirement to sign the confession caused her lasting damage, and made her fearful of reprisals in London. They say: “Zaghari-Ratcliffe had resisted intense pressure to make a false confession on many occasions during interrogations and during her eight and a half months in solitary confinement. To be told to sign a false confession by her own government after all she had survived was deeply distressing to her.”

In the final three days before her release, Redress has revealed, Iranian officials accused Zaghari-Ratcliffe of being a spy, taunted her by offering her release and then threatening to revoke it, and attempted to get her to – and eventually forced her to – sign a document confessing to unspecified crimes.

The letter reveals the British ambassador called her on 14 March and told her she had to attend a meeting with Iranian officials to collect a new Iranian passport, even though her Iranian lawyer had advised her not attend.

The letter says: “The ambassador picked her up in an embassy car, drove her to the government office and waited outside. Again Zaghari-Ratcliffe was required to attend the office alone. She was accused by Iranian officials of being a spy, was told that if she loved Iran she wouldn’t have done what she did, and asked if she regretted it. She was informed they were exchanging her for half a billion dollars. They then pressured her to sign a document purporting to confess to unspecified charges and promising not to sue the Iranian government. The document appeared to be a standardised form with blank spaces to fill in details of the alleged crimes and the confession. Zaghari-Ratcliffe steadfastly refused to sign this document.”

At this point, she recounts in the letter, a “particularly sinister official was brought into the room to scare her. He accused her of being a spy and ruining Iran and told her: ‘If you don’t sign this, you won’t go home.’” Zaghari-Ratcliffe eventually relented to writing out a separate document in her own handwriting which removed the words “I confess”. The ambassador assured her afterwards that the document had no legal standing, she says.

The following day at the airport she was filmed and intimidated including by one of her interrogators during her initial period of solitary confinement, she reveals. The letter says she became “so frightened of this interrogator that she began shivering. He told her: ‘You do realise we have the power to ruin you even if you are not in Iran?’”

The letter continues that “at around 2pm, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was approached by the UK’s lead negotiator. By this time Zaghari-Ratcliffe was feeling deeply stressed and had not had any lunch or refreshments, save for one instant coffee.

“The lead negotiator told her that the Iranians would not let her get on the plane unless she signed the document. Zaghari-Ratcliffe refused, and the lead negotiator told her that the confession would have no value and that she needed to sign it. Zaghari-Ratcliffe eventually agreed to sign the document if she could have her handwritten document back. Zaghari-Ratcliffe walked to a nearby wall and pulled up her scarf for privacy while she signed the document. The man filming her came up close to her while she was filling out the form. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the lead negotiator both told him not to film.”

Redress said the family “regard this forced confession as part and parcel of the pattern of torture Zaghari-Ratcliffe had suffered since she was first detained in 2016 as it involves further infliction of severe suffering. Signing false confessions was something Zaghari-Ratcliffe had resisted during numerous interrogation sessions at the hands of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards], despite intolerable pressure and at enormous personal cost.”

The lawyers said the “years of abuse and manipulation of Zaghari-Ratcliffe at the hands of Iranian authorities, has caused her to suffer serious and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and obsessive compulsive disorder”.

Redress accuses the Foreign Office of failing to comply with its own policies and international legal obligations on torture and has demanded Truss commission an urgent review of the department’s torture policies and their implementation.