Bob Blackman is MP for Harrow East.
Oil, gas, weapons, and kidnapping. These seem to constitute the most lucrative parts of the Iranian economy – with the latter potentially surging further quite soon if a “ransom” for Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe is paid.
Nazanin is a dual citizen mother whose British daughter was taken from her when she was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the airport in Tehran and sentenced to years in prison. Her husband back in the UK has campaigned desperately for her release.
The charges against her? Well, they are extremely vague. In fact, they have never been presented in full details, but somehow involve spying. This does not just represent a flimsy case, or a grave injustice: it also represents a blatant attempt by the Iranian regime to take the British foreign policy hostage to extort concessions and dictate term.
The price tag that Tehran now has put on Nazanin’s release is over £300 million. Cash that the regime in Iran desperately wants and needs to develop weapons, support terrorism and militias that will harm countless more lives asides from Naznim’s.
Naznin deserves to be released and reunited with her family in the UK. Every minute she spends in prison is not just a minute of her life wasted, it is a minute away from a husband that loves her, a daughter that misses her while she continues to live without her mother, and it is weekends with friends and family that will never happen.
Meanwhile, Iran has just had the 64th UN resolution criticising its egregious human rights record passed against it. The prison Nazanin is locked in, the notorious Evin Prison, has seen incinerations for years that resulted in just those types of resolutions. This include the imprisonment of thousands of innocent Iranians who were part of the 30.000 political prisoners, majority of them activists of the People’s Mojahedon Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian opposition movement, executed in a matter of weeks in 1988. This behaviour is not new: it started just after the revolution when American hostages were imprisoned, and this is simply the latest chapter.
This imprisonment is a high-stakes showdown, and indicates that the regime is so desperate that its leaders are willing to make headlines and risk action for cash. A British policy that does not yield to this extortion attempt is the only one that will break a cycle of kidnappings and apparent ransom that has been repeated since 1979. By not giving into the Iranian government’s demands, it will also make continuing to hold Naznim a losing strategy. When they add up future business dealings with the UK that they will lose out on and the cost of additional sanctions, a release of their prisoner looks a whole lot better.
This same policy of holding firm in the face of extortion attempts that will fund terror against the UK and its allies should not stop at Naznin’s case either. The IRGC, which has been involved in massacring civilians in nearly every country in the Middle East, has also carried out facilitated attacks globally, including on European soil, through its proxy, Hezbollah. Behind their prolific terrorist activities is a well-known business empire, since the guards control or hold a stake in major companies in nearly every major industry in Iran. Unfortunately, European governments and the UK have gone ahead with massive business dealings that risk to fund this very group despite knowing the consequences. We must penalise terror groups, not shower them with cash.
The cost of rewarding Iran’s terror activities is more kidnapping, deadlier weapons, more terror, and also a far more dangerous UK. Iranian activities have been a primary catalyst for mass migration from Syria, Lebanon, and beyond. And terrorist groups such as Daesh capitalised on the reaction to the sectarian policy that Tehran ideologically pursues, and has thrived in Iranian-dominated areas.
We must demand that Naznim be released – and that will only happen without a far higher cost if we are to penalise the regime for its unacceptable actions and make them costly instead of profitable. Failure to push back against the current system, risk to reward terror which will mean more bloodshed, more refugees, and more kidnapping. As Sir Winston Churchill would say, “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”