MPs claim Foreign Office ‘inaction’ on sanctioning Iranians for hostage-taking

The Foreign Office has failed to impose sanctions on key Iranians responsible for the arrest and intimidation of the British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe despite having been passed their names in September, MPs have claimed.

Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the foreign affairs select committee, named Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, a state TV journalist, and Hossein Taeb, a former head of intelligence in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as part of a group of 10 Iranians who he said needed to be hit with sanctions for state hostage-taking. It is the first time the two names have been released.

Bryant told the Commons that Zabihpour “is known for eliciting false confessions from prisoners in front of camera during interrogations” and was present at the airport immediately prior to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, attempting to film her while she was being pressed to confess by the Iranian government.

Hossein Taeb was, until June, head of intelligence in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Photograph: Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News/AFP/Getty Images

Taeb was the head of IRGC intelligence, running the political prisoner department of Evin prison which is responsible for mass arrests and the torture of hundreds of prisoners, and was the driving force behind IRGC hostage-taking, Bryant said.

He added that Taeb was responsible for the extraction of false confession at the airport from Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and blocked the release of other British-Iranian dual nationals.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, wrote in the Guardian on Thursday that the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, had delivered on her promise to free his wife by paying the UK’s debt to Iran, but had since failed to “ensure hostage-taking didn’t pay” by sanctioning Iranian officials.

Bryant, speaking in the Commons, questioned why the UK had not taken any action under the Magnitsky sanctions regime on human rights despite being furnished with a list of 10 Iranians complicit in hostage-taking nearly nine months ago. He suggested: “If the UK had taken action against these individuals in September or in December, they may have thought twice about abusing British hostages. Government inaction always has a price.”

He was one of a number of MPs, including the former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who questioned why the UK had imposed sanctions on only 20% of the people sanctioned worldwide by the US.

Duncan Smith pointed out the US has sanctioned Chen Quanguo, labelled a “brutal, ghastly individual” who was the “key architect of all that’s been going on in Xinjiang”, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).

Speaking in the Commons, Duncan Smith said the XPCC was “a state-owned paramilitary organisation. It runs the region’s mass coercive transfer labour programme, which is slavery, which puts at least 1.6 million Uyghurs at risk of that slavery in factories and other locations.

“The UK sanctioned the XPCC public security bureau, the subsidiary responsible for running the prison camps, but for some strange and peculiar reason has not sanctioned the corporation as a whole.”

He added: “What is it that the US knows and we don’t know?”

Duncan Smith said the EU was also implementing sanctions at a “higher and faster rate” than the UK.

Figures provided by Redress show only six people have been hit with sanctions under the Magnitsky legislation, as opposed to 102 last year.

Some MPs believe the Foreign Office may have switched to freezing the assets of UK-based oligarchs over their support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine but not had the resources or leadership to look more broadly at how to punish human rights abusers around the globe.