The IRCT today celebrates with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family after the dual national British-Iranian development worker was released from six years imprisoned as a hostage in Iran suffering treatment that IRCT experts, in a report delivered to the UK foreign secretary which made headlines in the British media, found to be “highly consistent” with torture.
“While geopolitics between the UK and Iran was clearly the determining factor in Nazanin’s release, we can say with confidence that the role of IRCT’s experts in substantiating the evidence of Nazanin’s torture was highly influential in pressuring the UK government to take action,” said James Lin, IRCT’s Istanbul Protocol Coordinator.
“Nazanin’s release demonstrates the value of documenting torture using the Istanbul Protocol, because by using the internationally agreed standards the IRCT and its partners can ensure that States are not able to dismiss torture as merely an allegation, but are instead confronted with evidence of torture assessed by experts.”
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe reunited with her husband and daughter after six years of torture in Iranian prison.
Nazanin was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 2016 on a visit to her parents and was later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment, apparently due to her role as a project manager for Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters. Nazanin and the Foundation consistently denied the charge. She was released after the UK announced it had settled a EUR477m debt owed to Iran relating to an order for tanks that Iran paid for but which the UK never delivered following the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Early in the crisis, the UK government denied it could guarantee to exercise diplomatic protection on behalf of Nazanin due to her dual national status, a position it continued to argue until at least April 2021, despite the principle of predominant nationality and legal argument that supported the obligation to exercise diplomatic protection in cases where an individual suffers significant human rights abuses abroad. Nazanin was released together with another British-Iranian, Anoosheh Ashoori; a third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, who has Iranian, UK and US nationality, remains in Iran, although he has been released from prison.
Read more: The full conclusions of IFEG’s report on Nazanin and background to her case.
Nazanin spent the majority of her sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where rights groups including Amnesty have documented systematic torture, including beatings, sexual assault, and deliberate neglect and ill-treatment of inmates in need of medical care. Following a request from Redress, a UK-based NGO pursuing legal claims for survivors of torture, in October 2020 two members of the IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) conducted a two-day online examination of Nazanin to determine her phsycial and psychological condition.
The two experts, Professor Dr Michele Heisler of the University of Michigan and Dr Lilla Hardi, Medical Director of IRCT member the Cordelia Foundation in Hungary, concluded Nazanin’s condition was “highly consistent” with her allegations of torture and ill-treatment during her imprisonment.
“Nazanin suffers from serious and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and obsessive–compulsive disorder due to her treatment in prison and under house arrest, and the continuing legal uncertainty and separation from her family,” the report found.
In March 2021, Redress delivered the full 77-page medico-legal report to the UK’s then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who had previously referred to Nazanin’s experience in Iranian prison as an “ordeal”. By May 2021 Raab was referring to Nazanin’s treatment as torture.
IFEG’s conclusions were also extensively reported in leading UK media, including The Times, the BBC, the Independent , and The Week, and informed an editorial in The Times, widely seen as the British establishment newspaper of record, calling for British government to redoubkle efforts to secure Nazanin’s release.
For more information
What is IFEG and how does it help turn allegation of torture into evidence of torture?
IFEG is an international body of 42 preeminent independent forensic specialists from 23 countries, who are recognised global leaders in the medico-legal investigation of torture and ill-treatment. It was established in 2009 by the IRCT in order to order to apply medical expertise to the issue of legal accountability for perpetrators of torture.
Watch a short video here in which one of the founders of IFEG, Professor Dr Djordje Alempijevic, explains the role of forensic experts in substantiating allegations of torture, and his recent work on cases from Belarus.