In recent months, it has become increasingly evident that there is a dire need to hold politicians accountable for their actions. Often, we can become disillusioned as to the power of our own voices, particularly when it comes to speaking out against injustice when the injustice is being delivered by those we are supposed to trust the most.
Perhaps the most recent example of this have been the comments made by Boris Johnson- our foreign secretary- regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Nazanin is a British-Iranian woman who was jailed for five years last April on suspicion of “plotting to topple the Iranian regime” with charges of spreading propaganda. The young mother was visiting her parents with her daughter (who has since been taken into the care of family members in Iran), but it was Johnson’s comments in a parliamentary committee meeting, that have raised further concern about Nazanin’s safety and well-being.
Speaking to the committee, Johnson “mistakenly” told MPs that Nazanin had been “simply teaching people journalism”; to the unaware this may seem ingenuous, but the comment (essentially reiterating what the Iranian government had already accused the mother of) has led to heightened fears that her sentence will be increased and at the very least, doubled. Nazanin was summoned to Tehran for a court hearing on the 4th November, with prosecutors citing Johnson’s ‘blip’ as new evidence for an increased jail term.
While Johnson’s comments alone puts the future of an innocent woman at risk, it was his failure to clarify his mistake that makes them even more dangerous. Instead of wholeheartedly apologising and promising to do everything that he can to protect the rights of Nazanin (baring in mind she was jailed well over a year ago), he apologised for the fact that his words were “open to being misinterpreted”. It is this that highlights the importance of calling out elected officials when they prove their incompetence, and especially when these officials have roles as influential as the Foreign Secretary. Without the work of organisations like Amnesty International and the outpouring of support from those on social media in response to Johnson’s blunder, Nazanin’s experience and her husband’s efforts to return her home would have continued to go unheard.
The recent Westminster sexual assault allegations also serve to prove the power of accountability and the electorate. The story first broke when The Sun reported that female researchers and aides in Parliament were using a WhatsApp group chat to share their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in Westminster. More and more stories were gradually released, with four male MPS (including a minister) accused of harassing young women inappropriately, Bex Bailey coming forward as a victim of rape at a Labour Party event in 2011, and more government ministers appearing on an unverified list of sexual misconduct allegations – Defence Secretary Michael Fallon eve resigned for having “fallen below the high standard we require of the armed forces”.
The culture of sexual harassment and abuse of power amongst the very group of people who are supposed to serve in the country’s best interests, is at this point and as bleak as it may be, unsurprising. For years now there have been reports of discrimination against and harassment towards women, especially in Whitehall , and it seems as though these reports will only continue to surface over the course of the next few months.
Despite how disturbing these allegations have been, given the nature of recent headlines it seems as though the people are not only speaking up, but fighting back. Momentum is seemingly building amongst those whose very rights have been abused and whose vulnerability has been exploited and we’ve seen the unifying of these voices to ensure that politicians are held and, more importantly, continue to be held accountable for their actions.
By elevating the voices of these people and by loudly and unapologetically criticising politicians for their misconduct or mistakes, we open the possibility for greater accountability in Westminster and, thus, a more competent and socially aware Parliament.
More information about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s condition and what you can do to help her and her family can be found on Amnesty International’s website and if you have a perspective you’d like to share on the Westminster allegations or political misconduct, we’d love to hear it here at LAPP!
Written by Ella Nevill