Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s boss has condemned Boris Johnson for committing a “huge, huge gaffe” after incorrectly suggesting the British mother jailed in Iran was training journalists.
The Foreign Secretary today apologised for his mistake after Iran state TV used his comments to support the regime’s trumped-up charge that she was in the country spying.
The Government has now fully adopted Nazanin’s family’s position, namely that she was in the country on holiday visiting her parents with her baby daughter.
Nazanin works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It is the charitable arm of the Canadian news agency Thomson Reuters, where Nazanin is a project manager.
“Nazanin was holiday, as we have repeated for 19 months now,” said the foundation’s chief executive, Monique Villa, on Sky News on Monday. “It has taken a huge gaffe from Boris Johnson for people to really understand it is a serious issue for the British government,”
The foundation issued a statement in response to the Iranian TV reports, reiterating that she had never taken part in the training of journalists - as Johnson had suggested.
But it appears Johnson’s words are hard to reverse.
When being interviewed by Sky News’s Kay Burley in the aftermath of Johnson’s apology in Parliament, Villa was asked about Nazanin “going on holiday as a journalist”.
Burley: “I have two more questions for you, given that she is a journalist and has gone on holiday, but she is a journalist ...
Villa: “No, no, no no ...”
Burley: “She is not a journalist?”
Villa: “She has never been a journalist. She’s a project manager. She is the person that organises the logistics of workshops. She has not trained journalists because, she had never been a journalist. We have other journalists doing that. It is completely an invention. It has never existed.”
Burley: “I wonder where Boris got that from. It seems almost unbelievable that he could come up with this suggestion that she is a journalist.”
Villa: “It’s an enormous blow, he must have forgotten about her and thought Thomson Reuters they are journalists ... I have no idea how he could commit this mistake. It’s really a huge, huge gaffe. She has never been a journalist and at the foundation we only have journalists training other journalists, of course.”
The misinformation about what Nazanin was doing in Iran has been rife on social media, particularly since Johnson’s comments.
On Sunday, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on the Andrew Marr Show he did not know why she was in Iran.
He was criticised by Labour MP Chris Bryant for adding “further ambiguity” to Nazanin’s position. “Look, ministers, the Iranians are dastardly so you need to be ruthlessly self-disciplined or you put Britons at risk,” he added.
It led Ukip donor and Brexit campaigner Arron Banks to suggest it was Nazanin’s “own silly fault” she is being held.
Cleary ignorant of the issue, he later asked:
Times columnist David Aaronovitch took issue with Banks, saying “how much lower can a man get than offering tacit support for a regime imprisoning a British mum?”.
Some couldn’t indulge Banks for long.
Nazanin has been in jail 19 months, and her husband revealed on Sunday that she is “on the verge of a nervous breakdown” after finding lumps on her breasts.