UK government ‘failed among citizens’ in handling state hostage-taking, investigation says

The chairman of a cross-party group of MPs has said that following the investigation into arbitrary detention, the UK government is “failing British nationals” in its handling of the state hostage situation.

The report, released Tuesday by the House foreign affairs select committee, calls on ministers to take a “zero tolerance approach” to politically motivated arrest and imprisonment, what MPs see as a threat to the rules-based international order.

In recent years, the government has come under close scrutiny over the handling of detainees following the case of the Anglo-Iranian dual national. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffewho was arrested in Iran on espionage charges in April 2016 and returned to the UK in March 2022.

Following the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, the commission opened an investigation into the government’s approach to the state hostage situation in July 2022.

The report criticized the government’s record in communicating with the families of detainees and condemned the “inconsistent approach” within the State Department, citing “high turnover of ministers”. and civil servants”.

The report comes as charity worker Kevin Cornwell and two other British nationals are being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Speaking last weekend, home secretary Suella Braverman said the government was “negotiating” to ensure they arrived safely.

Braverman told Sky News that Britons intending to travel to dangerous parts of the world should be “extremely cautious”. “If they are going to do that they should always act on the advice of the Foreign Office regarding travel.”

She added that if the safety of British citizens abroad were at risk, “the UK government will do whatever it takes to make sure they are safe”.

The Foreign Office said on Monday: “We are working to ensure consular contact with British nationals detained in Afghanistan and we are providing support to the families.”

The report, which warns that taking hostages is a growing threat, recommends the creation of a new role for government, director of arbitrary and complex detentions, to act as a point of contact. for families and improve coordination between Whitehall.

MPs said the government should also clearly outline what measures it is willing to use against countries detaining Britons for “diplomatic leverage”, including legal procedures and “measures”. Magnitsky sanctions” targeting those responsible for human rights abuses or corruption.

Committee chairperson and Tory MP Alicia Kearns said some states “weaponized the citizenship of British citizens” to achieve their geopolitical goals, adding that the government must “boldly” of the measures used” to return detainees.

“The government’s approach to state-level hostage-taking is failing British citizens,” she said. “Detainees and their families report ministerial clumsiness, serious and avoidable errors, and even callous and hurtful comments to their families.

“Our report calls for families to be treated as partners who have the potential to be instrumental in efforts to tackle detentions.”

In the week of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, the British government settled a £394 million debt owed to Iran by the purchase of tanks dating back to the 1979 Islamic revolution. London has insisted that the two issues are unrelated. to each other.

The report found there was “compelling evidence” that the payment to Tehran was a “precondition” for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, adding that the “failure” to pay earlier was “deeply regrettable” ” and “almost certainly adversely affect the length of detention”.

The State Department said consular officials are available 24/7 so that families receive the right support and ministers fully participate in complex cases.

A spokesperson said: “The best interests of British nationals detained are at the heart of our consular work and we support and work with their families wherever possible. .

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