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Boris Johnson blunder 'risks five more years in prison for British-Iranian woman'

Boris Johnson blunder 'risks five more years in prison for British-Iranian woman'

John Ashmore

4 min read

The husband of a British woman jailed in Iran has accused Boris Johnson of a blunder which could see his wife facing five more years behind bars.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year sentence after being arrested at Tehran airport in April of last year, although she has not been told what offence she is being held for.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always maintained she was in Iran on holiday when she was arrested.

But in a committee hearing last week, the Foreign Secretary told MPs the dual British-Iranian national had been “simply teaching people journalism” when she was detained.

Despite the remark being quickly dismissed by her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was hauled before an Iranian court on Saturday, with Mr Johnson’s words used as evidence against her.

The Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights said yesterday: “For months it was claimed that Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested. Mr Johnson’s statement has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin.”

She appeared before Abolghassem Salavati, a judge so notorious he is on an EU sanctions list for “gross human rights violations”.


Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, hit out at the Tory heavyweight, telling the Times: “There is a direct link between Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday and Judge Salavati, the harshest judge that you can find hearing her case on Saturday, where she is now facing a double sentence.

“[His] misstep saying she was training journalists not that she was on holiday - contradicting what we have said all along - is being used for propaganda purposes to justify holding her.”


Elsewhere the chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Monique Villa, accused Mr Johnson of making a “serious mistake” and urged him to correct his remarks.

“I once again urge Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to immediately correct the serious mistake he made at the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament," she said in a statement.

“On 1 November he said that Nazanin ‘was training journalists’ in Iran. I have immediately clarified that this is not right as she is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she is project manager in my Media Development team.

“Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazani 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’."

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who has campaigned for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release, said Mr Johnson must immediately retract his statement.

She said: "By suggesting Nazanin was in Iran ‘teaching people journalism’, Boris Johnson has endangered the cause to secure her release. His comments were both untrue and unhelpful to her case.

"In her 18 months of arbitrary detention in Iran, the Foreign Secretary has yet to visit Nazanin or her family in Tehran. He has also failed to meet with her husband Richard, who has been separated from his wife and their daughter for more than a year and a half.

"I urge the Foreign Secretary to formally retract his comments, and to stick to his word and take the opportunity to visit Nazanin in Iran at the earliest possible opportunity."

The Foreign Office published a statement claiming Mr Johnson's comments provide "no justifiable basis on which to bring any addition charges" to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. 

"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 his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented." 

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