From Radha Stirling
The Iranian government has accused Mrs Ratcliffe of seeking to promote negative propaganda against the state by running a training course for aspiring journalists; but their wrongful detention of Nazanin the government has done far more damage to their own image around the world than any supposed negative PR campaign could ever do. Indeed, equating things like journalism and human rights advocacy to seditious propaganda only reveals to the world that a government cannot bear the scrutiny of accurate reporting; and this is the case not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East and Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia’s killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the UAE’s persecution of British academic Matthew Hedges are just two recent examples of how governments in the region deal with anyone who criticizes, questions, or even researches the facts about official government narratives.
Countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE continue to behave as if the key to having a positive global image is to suppress criticism, and to jail and disappear dissidents; as though authoritarian crackdowns on information somehow make that information go away.
They need to recognise that genuine freedom and policy reforms are the only way to improve a government’s image and that silencing critics does nothing but prove and amplify their criticisms.
The UK took a strong stance on the case of Matthew Hedges in the UAE, and I hope that Nazanin’s hunger strike will stir the British government to do the same in her case.
There is no question that Iran is in a severe ‘trust deficit’ with the West; they have an opportunity now to take a positive step towards better diplomatic relations by releasing Nazanin. I urge the Iranian government to end her wrongful detention, and allow her to return home.
Ms Radha Stirling is founder and CEO of UK based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.