UPDATE Nadira has decided, with great sadness, not to travel to Uzbekistan, having received information that it is not safe to do so. Not being able to attend your own parent’s funeral is heartrending. She has however been to the mosque and discussed charitable work she might undertake in her father’s name.
I also received a reply from the FCO to my request for assistance, which is unhelpful and raises some interesting questions. Nadira’s only “crime” has been to leave Uzbekistan without permission. The Uzbek law in this regard is a hangover from the old Soviet Union exit visa regime, and it is something which the UK historically regarded as in itself a breach of fundamental human rights. Those of my generation will recall the line “we never had to lock our people in”. The FCO appears fine with this now in Uzbekistan, and it is yet another startling reminder that Western government’s interest in human rights depends entirely on who is breaching them.
The second point is very topical. The FCO writes:
The FCO would provide consular assistance to you if required when in country. However, the Uzbeks’ interpretation of your wife’s nationality may limit the level of consular support that we would be able to provide to her.
Yet the FCO takes the precise opposite position in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As I have explained before, it is very longstanding UK policy that the government does not assist dual nationals in their country of second nationality. As explicitly stated in the case of Nadira, they accept the definition of nationality of the country that the person is in. I have personally witnessed consular help being denied to individuals on grounds of dual nationality in scores of cases during my FCO career.
Yet Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a UK/Iranian dual national, with Iranian nationality in the eyes of the government of Iran, has received consular assistance at a higher level than any living person, including sole UK citizens. That is a literal statement, nobody else living has had their consular case “adopted” as a state to state issue by the British government.
Let me be plain. I strongly urge the government of Iran to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe instantly, on humanitarian grounds. I know that the British government is illegally withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in defiance of a binding international arbitration ruling on the tank contract, but it is wrong to balance a life against cash. Iran is hurting its image even with its good friends by continuing to hold her.
But none of that answers the question of why Zaghari-Ratcliffe has, from the very start of her detention, been treated in a way that breaks all policy on consular treatment for dual nationals. If we had any decent and genuinely free journalists in this country it would be a question that had been discussed and politicians pressed for an answer. There are literally thousands of part British dual nationals in foreign jails, not receiving any assistance. Why should Nadira not be treated the same as Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a precisely analogous situation? Why has policy been ignored for just one individual?
There is a case for giving consular assistance to all British citizens abroad, whether or not they hold another nationality. That would require a very large increase in the FCO budget, and possibly not be effective because there is no legal obligation on the host country to acknowledge the second nationality and provide consular access. British government involvement has not actually helped Zaghari-Ratcliffe and probably has made matters worse. But any policy should be implemented fairly, in the same way for everyone to whom it applies. This very plainly is not happening.
Nadira’s father, the Uzbek playwright and theatre director Rustam Aliev, suffered a massive stroke yesterday and passed away in the early hours of this morning, age 60. Nadira is very sad at not having had the chance to see him before he died, and while awake all last night she set down her thoughts in this piece, which I find extremely powerful.
(SCREAM OF MY SOUL TONIGHT)
I wish I could turn back time
Only for a few hours, just a few hours back
Could’ve called you this morning
Could’ve said more than ‘I love you’
Would’ve said ‘The greatest gift you ever gave
Was freedom and you believed in me,
It was the best thing a woman wear
– when I was yet a teenager.’
You see because of this – I’m here today
Grateful and strong – that’s what I’d say.
I could tell you that even I’m far away
My heart & mind always loved you,
A few ups and downs, don’t matter at all
We cling to you, soul to soul.
Please clock take me to a few more hours back
Let me ask if he is proud of me
Let me ask if he ever had his own dream
Let me ask what he was like as a child…
Please hours have mercy – I was busy
I didn’t expect, I didn’t know that this day,
Today was his last.
Please let me let him know I loved him deeply,
he was the best
He often said he failed us, he never gave us anything,
that he was wasted and lost
He used to think he was the worst.
Please, restart the morning again
Let me tell him this – he was the best
And he gave the best – he gave me freedom
In my culture not all fathers
give freedom to their daughters.
He made me tough, he taught me to be strong
and sometimes neglect so I could find my way
through the fail.
He knew me, believed in me, he was never careful with me
or treated me like a princess doll.
He grew me tough, made me a warrior and said:
‘Go fly, you have wings, don’t be afraid, find your way
be your own kind’
It was weird,
but because of him I’m a free spirit.
Because of him I’m strong and live ‘my way’ in life.
Please clock take me back
Regrets are painful, they can attack
I love you, you hear me, please hear the echo of my soul
Ruthless time at least wave my sound fast, reach to his soul,
whilst its warm, tell him all:
Dad if you’re in the blue sky wondering, floating
or re-visiting your past,
Please hear me, Dad – ‘Thank you, daddy. Forgive me.
Know I loved you always, will always do,
and you’re the best, thanks for being just like YOU!’
Nadira is rightly insistent on returning immediately to Tashkent for her father’s funeral, and of course I shall go with her. However as everyone who has read “Murder in Samarkand” will understand, this is very fraught and potentially dangerous. Neither of us have ever returned to Uzbekistan after leaving in 2004. The visa requirement for British visitors was abolished earlier this year. Nadira is a British citizen since 2009. I have both spoken to and written to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to request their assistance and protection, but heard nothing back substantive yet. I hope the government of Uzbekistan will allow Nadira to mourn her father in peace.