Nigel Adams – 2020 Statement on British Citizens Imprisoned Overseas and Coronavirus

Below is the text of the statement made by Nigel Adams, the Minister for Asia, in the House of Commons on 2 March 2020.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will respond to this urgent question on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, who is travelling in the middle east.

Protecting British citizens at home and abroad is a top priority for the Government, and amid the outbreak of coronavirus, known as covid-19, the UK is leading the response. First, we are providing support to British citizens abroad, which includes travellers and their families in countries around the world. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is closely monitoring coronavirus throughout the world, through its diplomatic network. We are providing travel advice to British nationals, so that they can be sure of the facts before deciding whether to travel, and sure about what to do if they are affected by an outbreak of covid-19 while travelling.

The UK has introduced measures to ensure that travellers returning from abroad do not spread the virus further. We have put in place enhanced monitoring measures at UK airports, and health information is available at all international airports, ports, and train stations. We have established a supported isolation facility at Heathrow to cater for international passengers who are tested, and to maximise infection control and free-up NHS resources.

For British nationals caught up in the initial outbreaks of the virus, we have co-ordinated repatriation for those impacted in Wuhan, and passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. We are working with the Spanish authorities and tour operators to support the return of British nationals affected by the situation in Tenerife.

We also continue to assist our British nationals who are detained in countries such as Iran, which has seen reports of a high number of cases of coronavirus. France, Germany and the United Kingdom have expressed their full solidarity with those impacted by covid-19 in Iran. We are offering Iran a comprehensive package of both material and financial support to stem the rapid spread of the disease. Today, a plane departed the UK with vital materials, such as equipment for laboratory tests, as well as other equipment including protective body suits and gloves. The E3, namely the UK, France and Germany, has also committed to providing urgent additional financial support close to €5 million to fight the covid-19 epidemic affecting Iran. This will be through the World Health Organisation or other UN agencies.

We will continue to support global efforts to combat the outbreak of covid-19. Our support is directed to help the most vulnerable across the globe and to strengthen the global health system to protect our own nationals. We have provided £40 million investment into vaccine and virus research, and £5 million to the World Health Organisation. We will continue to do all we can to help to keep British nationals safe and healthy around the world.

Tulip Siddiq

I have raised the concerns about the health of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe several times in the Chamber, but today the situation is potentially fatal. The prison in which Nazanin is being held hostage has reported cases of coronavirus. She is seriously ill and is displaying symptoms associated with the virus. Her family are desperately worried about her and, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not blame them.

Coronavirus is spreading through Iran at an alarming rate, as the Minister has just said, and Iran has actually pulled some of its own prisoners out of jails. Britain is pulling its non-essential staff out of the Tehran embassy in Iran. Yet the Iranian authorities are point-blank refusing to test Nazanin for coronavirus or any other British citizens in their jails. The United Nations Human Rights Council has made it clear that, under both Iranian and international law, Iran must provide medical treatment to Nazanin and British citizens like Nazanin.

What representations has the Minister made to Iran to test Nazanin specifically for coronavirus and to provide the full results? What assurances can he give that any results given by the Iranians will be reliable? The key point is that if we leave British citizens in harm’s way for long enough, they will come to harm. The Government face important choices over Nazanin’s case in the coming months. They must do everything possible to secure her permanent release and bring her back home.

Bearing that in mind, what instructions has the Prime Minister given to departmental and Government lawyers to resolve the debt that Britain owes to Iran? I read with interest the Iranian ambassador’s comments this afternoon about co-ordinating with British authorities to purchase urgent medical items—the Minister referred to that in his answer. Will he set out what humanitarian supplies the UK is providing to Iran to help it to tackle its growing public health crisis? Was my constituent’s potentially fatal medical condition mentioned in negotiations?

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life hangs in the balance. I urge the Government to act and to act now.

Nigel Adams

The hon. Lady is right to raise this case. Things may have moved on a little bit today in terms of the testing with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The hon. Lady will appreciate that we are unable to comment on any medical assessments without the permission of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We are in touch, and have been in touch today, with her husband. I can assure the hon. Lady that we are in close contact with the Iranian authorities to urge them to secure a temporary release for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on medical grounds. We clearly do not think she should be in prison in Iran in the first place.

The hon. Lady referred to the debt. We do not share the view that the IMS—International Military Services—debt, or any other bilateral issue, is the reason for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention.

We expect Iran to live up to its responsibilities under international human rights law and the Vienna convention on consular relations, and to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and all other dual nationals that are in Iran.