Jeremy Hunt piles pressure on Iran as he grants diplomatic protection to jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Jeremy Hunt has granted diplomatic protection to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a bid to up the pressure on the Iranian government to release her.
The jailed British-Iranian charity worker has been held in Tehran for the past three years after being accused of spying.
The Foreign Secretary has now moved to grant Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, meaning her case will be treated as a state-versus-state dispute rather than a consular issue.
Although Mr Hunt acknowledged the move was no "magic wand" guaranteeing her release, it means Britain could now impose sanctions or launch international legal action over Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's treatment.
"This represents formal recognition by the British Government that her treatment fails to meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevates it to a formal state-to-state issue," the Foreign Secretary said in a statement.
He added: "My decision is an important diplomatic step which signals to Tehran that its behaviour is totally wrong.
"It is unlikely to be a magic wand that leads to an overnight result. But it demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent and the UK will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly.
"I know there are many in Iran who understand the unjustness of this situation. No government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage so I call on Iran to release this innocent woman so she can be reunited with her family."
The move to elevate Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case has already been welcomed by her husband Richard, who has mounted a long-running campaign to highlight her case and lobby ministers to secure her release.
"It is a very clear statement and so hopefully the Iranian authorities will realise this has gone on too long. They cannot play games like this with ordinary people’s lives," he said.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality and has repeatedly rejected Britain's efforts to intervene in Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.
She was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in September 2016 for "plotting to topple the Iranian government" after prosecutors accused her of running a BBC Persian journalism course they claimed was aimed at spreading propaganda against the regime there.