It’s wonderful that the British academic Matthew Hedges is now safely back in Britain after six months in jail in the United Arab Emirates. He faced the seemingly implausible charge of being a British spy, which both he and the British government strenuously denied, and was sentenced to life imprisonment after a farcical five-minute court hearing last week. (Since writing this, readers have questioned whether he really was just a PhD student given his previous work with defence consultancies. We cannot know, but it still seems to me implausible that MI6 would use such an exposed person as a spy. More background here.)
Rejoicing, however, must be muted because, after two and a half years in an Iranian jail on an even more implausible charge of being a spy, the Iranian-British dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still there serving a five year sentence, separated heartbreakingly from her four year-old daughter as well as her husband in Britain.
Hedges was released after intense pressure on the UAE by the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Celebrating this victory, Hunt also said justice would not be done until Zaghari-Ratcliffe was re-united with her family. And perhaps he will achieve that too. But so far he has not. And so we might ask why he succeeded with the UAE but has not managed to do so with Iran.
Obviously, we don’t know what has been going on behind the scenes. But what we do know suggests that the British had leverage with the UAE but not with Iran. And the reason for that latter failure surely illustrates the appalling human cost of Britain’s policy of appeasement towards the Iranian regime.
In short, while the British made the UAE understand it had a lot to lose through its treatment of Matthew Hedges, Iran not surprisingly believes that with Britain it has the upper hand.