British officials did not require Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to sign a forced confession before her departure from Iran, but instead advised her that the Iranians would not allow her to leave unless she did so, the UK’s Middle East minister, Amanda Milling, told MPs.
British officials also advised that it was standard Iranian practice for released detainees to have to sign such documents, Milling said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has claimed the Foreign Office was complicit in forcing her to sign a confession in front of TV cameras after she had spent six years refusing to admit she was guilty. In a letter from her lawyers, human rights group Redress says she fears the confession will be used against her and other dual-national detainees held in Iran.
In the Commons on Tuesday, Milling accepted that UK Foreign Office officials were present at the signing of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s forced confession, but simply relayed to her the message from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that she needed to sign it.
Milling said: “Given the situation Iran put Nazanin [in] at the airport she took the decision to sign the document. No UK official forced her to do so. Iran has a practice of insisting detainees sign documents before they are released.”
Milling said repeatedly UK officials did not force Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, to sign the document, but was careful to avoid saying whether officials advised her to do so.
She also gave no answer on whether the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, knew of the pre-conditions for her departure in advance. Similarly, she sidestepped a question of whether the IRGC was going to be removed from the list of foreign terrorist organisations as part of an Iran nuclear deal.
Milling was answering an urgent question in the Commons that had been tabled by Tulip Siddiq, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP.
Siddiq told MPs: “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 16 March – on the day she was eventually allowed to fly back to the UK – she was again asked to do this by Iran, but instead 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.
“She is traumatised and fears for what the consequences of this could be for her future, her family and other British citizens still held hostage in Iran.”
Siddiq said it was “part of a systematic failure to respond to the torture of British citizens by foreign governments and hold them to account”.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in a BBC interview, confirmed she told the prime minister at a meeting in Downing Street that she had lived in the shadow of his mistaken statement to MPs in 2017 that she had visited Iran to train journalists in 2016.
She said: “For about a year and a half, I was trying to say: ‘Look I was on holiday … I have come with a baby with a suitcase full of nappies …
“But then when he made that comment, the Revolutionary Guards every time after that … they said, ‘You have been hiding information from us. We know that you’re a spy. We know what you were up to, even your prime minister mentioned that.’
“So I lived under the shadow of his comment psychologically and emotionally for the following four-and-a-half years after that day.”
She said there was an old Persian saying, “you may be able to leave prison but prison will never leave you and I will have to accept that”.