Boris Johnson has admitted he “could have been clearer” after his claim a British woman arrested in Iran was training journalists were cited as evidence against her.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments to MPs last week have provoked a backlash after the Islamic state used them as evidence that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.
She has always insisted she was in the country visiting family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is currently serving a five-year jail sentence in Iran, but there are fear her prison term could be extended because of Johnson’s comments.
In a phone call to his Iranian counterpart this morning, Johnson tried to row back from his own words.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The Foreign Secretary expressed concern at the suggestion from the Iranian Judiciary High Council for Human Rights that that his remarks last week at the Foreign Affairs Committee “shed new light” on the case.
“The Foreign Secretary said this was absolutely not true and it was clear, as it always had been, that Miss Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran on holiday when arrested.
“The Foreign Secretary made clear that the point he had been seeking to make in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee was he condemned the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime not that he believed Iranian accusations that Miss ZR had been engaged in such activity.
“The Foreign Secretary concluded by emphasizing that his remarks could form no justifiable basis for further action in this case and urged the Iranian authorities to release Miss Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds.”
The spokesperson added: “The Foreign Secretary accepts his remarks to the Foreign Affairs Committee could have been clearer on this aspect. He intends to update the house this afternoon.
According to the spokesman, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Johnson “the developments over the weekend were unrelated to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks”.
It was revealed that someone from the Foreign Office would be in contact with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family later today to update them on the situation.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she was about to board a plane back to the UK from Iran.
Her family insist the dual British-Iranian citizen was in the country to show her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella to her grandparents.
The Iranian authorities confiscated Gabriella’s passport and she is now living with her grandparents in the country
Appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Johnson said: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.
“(Neither) Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her family has been informed about what crime she has actually committed. And that I find extraordinary, incredible.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told the BBC this morning he wanted Johnson to retract what he said “and say clearly that Nazanin wasn’t training journalists and that she was just there on holiday”.
“I have promised Nazanin that it’s still possible that they will be home for Christmas. I’m still battling on those terms,” he said.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation, which employs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in its charity division, has urged Johnson to correct his “serious mistake”.