The husband of a British-Iranian mother being held in an Iran jail has called on Boris Johnson to correct a false statement he made about her that could result in the charity worker facing a longer jail sentence.
The Foreign Secretary told a select committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in the country training journalists, something her employer has denied.
Iranian authorities jailed Zaghari-Ratcliffe on charges of espionage 18 months ago and earlier this month she was told she faces fresh charges of attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Four days after Johnson’s statement Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to an unscheduled court hearing where Johnson’s remarks were cited as proof of her guilt, the 38-year-old’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told HuffPost UK.
She now faces a charge of propaganda against the regime and has been told she could face up to five years jail, some reports suggest, and is being tried on “exactly the same evidence” that was used in her trail in August 2016.
Richard wants Johnson to correct the “error”.
“It was clearly a mistake and it has clearly had consequences and it is incumbent on the Foreign Secretary to correct it. To make a clear statement about it.”
Richard said Iran was awash with “conspiracies” and Johnson’s remark had reignited and “encouraged whispering”.
He said the remarks had even caught the attention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s wider social circle who had been in touch to ask, “what was she was really doing there?”
Richard said the latest charge against his wife would make her a “repeat offender” and did not make sense.
“This is as illegal under Iranian law as it is in the UK. However, she is now threatened that her additional sentence will be doubled, since a repeat trial means she is now classed as a ‘repeat offender’.”
He added to HuffPost UK that the judiciary is “making it up as it goes along... but it is not trying to pretend a proper legal process is happening. It is political.”
“We have been very clear for the best part of two years that she was on holiday,” Richard explained.
“The Government implying that she was doing something, that she wasn’t just on holiday, is unhelpful. I’d like the Government to say she is innocent. That they can’t hold her like that.... I’d like that even more so now.”
Richard she he was not sure what impact Johnson could have in changing Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s present court case but said any statement he makes stating the facts will have an “impact on the political climate and the balance of power”.
The project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation - the news agency’s charitable arm - was on holiday visiting her parents with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella when she was arrested.
It is feared Johnson may have put her campaign for release in jeopardy after making an error at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee meeting, telling them that she “was training journalists in Iran”.
Oliver Denton Lieberman, the Office Manager to Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, told HuffPost UK that Siddiq had been in touch with Ratcliffe’s family over the weekend and said they were “distraught by the situation”.
Denton said the family had been campaigning for nearly two years to get the Government to “acknowledge that it was a bad thing that she was in prison” and had felt like they were “inching towards saying something, that she was wrongly imprisoned, before the genius that is Boris Johnson added a few extra flourishes to it.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employer has made an urgent appeal to Johnson to correct his mistake.
TRF’s statement reads: “I once again urge Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to immediately correct the mistake he made at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in Parliament.
“On 1 November, he said that 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 a project manager in my media development team.
“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 November 4 and accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime’.”
HuffPost UK has contact the Foreign Office for comment.
Along with academics and international workers from other western countries who were detained around the same time, she was accused of espionage by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, then separated from her daughter, placed in solitary confinement and sentenced to five years in prison.