Pressure piles on Boris Johnson over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe comments

Catherine Neilan
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A Vigil Is Held For British-Iranian Mother Imprisoned In Tehran
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016 (Source: Getty)

Pressure is growing on Boris Johnson to retract comments he made last week that may have inadvertently doubled a British woman's jail time.

The foreign secretary told a select committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe “was simply teaching people journalism” in Iran when she was arrested in April last year. She is currently serving a five year prison sentence, but now faces new charges of “propaganda against the regime”, which are thought to carry a further five year sentence.

Covertly teaching journalism is considered a crime in Iran. The charge has been strongly denied by her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and her husband.

Her husband Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he wanted Johnson to retract his comments in parliament "rather than in a phone call to his counterpart... and say clearly that Nazanin wasn’t training journalists and that she was just there on holiday".

Monique Villa, chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has called on Johnson to "correct the serious mistake he made".

"[Zaghari-Ratcliffe] is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she is project manager in my media development team," said Villa. "She was in Iran on holiday to show her daughter Gabriella to her grandparents when she was arrested at Tehran Airport on 3 April 2016.

"Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazanin has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into court on Saturday 4 November and accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime.’ This accusation from Judge Salavati can only worsen her sentence.

"She is obviously a bargaining chip between the UK government and Iran and this injustice must stop as soon as possible. Whatever is at stake should be paid attention to by the UK government.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has written to Johnson saying his statement to the committee "reveals a fundamental lack of interest or concern for the details of Nazanin's case and the consequences of your words", adding the responsibility to fix this is "yours and yours alone".

"In the event that your actions have indeed caused irreparable harm to Nazanin's prospects of freedom and result in her sentenced being lengthened, I hope and trust that you will take full responsibilty for that, in both a moral and political sense, and consider your position accordingly," she said.

So far the Foreign Office has said that Johnson’s comments may have been “misrepresented” and they provide “no justifiable basis” for additional charge

“While criticising the Iranian case against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the foreign secretary sought to explain that even the most extreme set of unproven Iranian allegations against her were insufficient reason for her detention and treatment.

“The UK will continue to do all it can to secure her release on humanitarian grounds and the foreign secretary will be calling the Iranian foreign minister to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented.”

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