Valerie asks question on hostages in Iran

Iran continues to hold British citizens hostage on false charges. Negotiations between the West and Iran on saving the Iran Nuclear Deal are ongoing in Vienna. On Monday, 24 Jan 2022, the US lead negotiator Robert Malley said that an agreement on the Nuclear Deal was unlikely without the freeing of US citizens being wrongly detained by Iran.

67 year-old Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired British-Iranian civil engineer held in Evin Prison, started a hunger strike on Sunday 23 January 2022, demanding that all foreign and dual-nationals be freed. Anoosheh requested that the British Government grant him diplomatic protection in April 2021, but the Government still has not done so. 

On Tuesday, 25 Jan 2022, I asked the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs:

‘What diplomatic steps she is taking to help ensure the release of detained British citizens during negotiations.’

In his answer, the Minister for Middle East and North Africa said that he and the Secretary of State had raised the release of the hostages with Iranian officials in November 2021. I responded:

‘Mr Speaker, can I thank the Minister for his answer, but that was November. Anoosheh Ashoori is on hunger strike, and he needs diplomatic protection. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 6 years a hostage, innocent. Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist, innocent. Mehran Raoof, a trade unionist, innocent. Will the Minister commit to working closely to United States Special Envoy Robert Malley, and bring these innocent hostages home?’

In his response, the Minister said that his Department continued to work on their release ‘not because questions are raised in the House or sent to us in correspondence but because it is the right thing to do’. This is a strange response, given that it is the role of Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account. This is also an area where the possibility of progress has recently been visible, with British Council worker Aras Amiri freed by Iran to return home this month.