The Dirty Secret Great Powers Wish Would go Away: Hostages in Iran

On March 17, 2016, Ms. Nazanin Ratcliffe, a U.K. national, traveled to Iran with her newborn baby girl, Gabriella, to visit her family and celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian new year. Close to four years later, she remains a hostage in Iran. Last week I spoke with Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband (and Gabriella’s dad), who has tirelessly waged a four-year campaign to secure Nazanin’s release from Iranian captivity.

Iran arbitrarily detains foreign visitors to exact political and economic concessions. For decades, visitors to Iran from close to twenty nations have been unlawfully imprisoned or held hostage by the Iranian regime. Nazanin is one of the scores of foreign nationals unlawfully imprisoned or held hostage by Iran. In addition to Nazanin, there are several American citizens and U.S. legal permanent residents with strong connections to the United States who are languishing in Iran’s notorious prison system.

Iran is not the only country that uses innocent people in this manner. In addition to Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, China, and other nations use hostage-taking as a foreign policy tool. I’m currently representing an American unlawfully imprisoned in Cuba who is one of almost 20 Americans in Cuban prisons. Cuba’s legal system is terrible. The country is a police state and no matter what the American stands accused of, there is no way he or she will be afforded due process or a fair trial.

In this Global Liberty Alliance podcast (GLA is an NGO that colleagues and I started a few years ago to defend the rule of law and fundamental rights), Richard discusses his family’s experience these past few years, and the lessons he has learned along the way, which he hopes will be of value to similarly-situated families. Richard and I discuss the importance of deterrence measures such as holding the hostage-takers to account for what they done in courts of law, sanctions, or a combination of these and other measures.

Ultimately, political will is what is most needed to help secure the release of hostages in Iran, and in other nations too. You’ll rarely if ever, hear about this issue in the mainstream news. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s been this way for decades. Why? While there is a dedicated crew of people in the federal government and private sector who work tirelessly to help secure the release of hostages and unlawfully imprisoned Americans, hostage policy still needs to be better prioritized on a country by country basis.