Ministers distressed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with ‘offensive’ comments: MPs

Ministers “deeply distraught” by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British citizens jailed abroad due to miscommunication, including “speaking offensively” to their families, the Conservative chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said.

Speaking about a damning new report on the Foreign Office’s handling of hostage diplomacy, Alicia Kearns said the treatment of the families of some hostages had been “insensitive and hurtful”.

Referring to former Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s handling of the case of a British-born environmentalist detained in Iran, he said “the most egregious failure of a minister” was to tell a family “it’s not our problem anymore.”

Ms Truss reneged on an agreement made with US officials that Morad Tahbaz, a British-American-Iranian trinational, would be released along with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe in March last year, and did not inform her family, according to The report.

“Liz Truss eventually called the family to tell them that ‘Dwell is now America’s problem,’ implying that she would not put any more effort into their release and that she had no time to speak to them further,” the MPs said.

There were also examples of ministers “getting the names of the hostages wrong”, Ms Kearns told Times Radio.

“For people with dual nationality, their British status was too often felt to be in doubt,” he also said.

The report also criticized “considerable ministerial transience” in recent years, with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe questioning, on release, why it took five foreign secretaries over six years to bring her home.

“This contributes to the inconsistency of the approach and increases the risks of missing opportunities, especially when it comes to autocratic states with greater ministerial security in office,” the parliamentarians said.

The committee called for a director for arbitrary and complex detentions.

“That is someone who would have a direct line to the prime minister, who can make sure that we have the cohesion, the continuity, the focus, the creativity that it takes to bring our people home,” said Ms Kearns.

“Because the reality is that one of our most important findings was that if you can get people home before they’re charged, that’s your best window of opportunity.”

He also said that “we have to call a spade a spade” as there is currently “too much nervousness within the Foreign Office about denouncing state hostage-taking for what it is.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “Consular officers are available 24/7 for families to receive personalized support. The Foreign Secretary and the FCDO ministers are fully involved in complex cases and have expressed their concern to foreign governments.

“The best interests of detained British nationals are at the heart of our consular work and we support and work with their families wherever we can.”


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