False claims made by Boris Johnson about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British mother who has been detained by Iran, may result in her being handed an extra five years in prison. The UK foreign secretary incorrectly said she was in the country to “train journalists” when she was actually holidaying.
Johnson told a select committee last week: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.” Following his comments, the 37-year-old woman was taken to an unscheduled court hearing in Iran, where Johnson’s remarks were cited as proof of her guilt.
The charity worker, who was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation as a project manager, is already serving a five-year prison sentence. She now faces a further five years in jail on new charges of “propaganda against the regime.”
In a statement, the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran said: “[Johnson’s] statement shows that Nazanin had visited the country for anything but a holiday. For months it was claimed that Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested.
“‘She was simply going on holiday, making a routine visit with her daughter Gabriella to visit her parents living in Tehran,’ The Guardian falsely claimed. Mr Johnson’s statement has shed a new light on the realities about Nazanin, which has been strongly denied previously by both her family and human-rights activists,” the Iranian judiciary concluded.
In a statement, the Thomson Reuters Foundation urged Johnson to “immediately correct the serious mistake.” It said: “On 1 November he said that Nazanin was ‘training journalists’ in Iran… 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 [the] 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 April 3, 2016.”
Johnson has not retracted his comment, but the Foreign Office is claiming it was misinterpreted. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Last week’s remarks by the foreign secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
“While criticizing 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 again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented,” the spokesperson added, according to the Guardian.
Utterly shocking that this man is still our foreign secretary – not able to act at home to keep British citizens safe, let alone abroad! https://t.co/ncL9HNNQhG
— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) November 6, 2017
Amnesty International activist Daren Nair tweeted that Johnson’s false statement “is putting her life in danger.” Stephen Quentin, a supporter of #FreeNazanin, tweeted: “Don’t allow your incorrect statement on Nazanin to be used to heap further abuse and misery on an innocent woman.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a dual British-Iranian national who was first arrested in April last year for leading a “soft coup” against the state. She has always insisted that she was visiting Iran on holiday, taking her then-18-month-old daughter to visit relatives. Her daughter is with family in Iran.
On Saturday, she faced Abolghassem Salavati, a notoriously harsh judge who sentenced her in the first trial. Salavati was placed on the EU sanctions list in 2011 for “gross human rights violations.”
A serious blunder by @BorisJohnson that could have dire ramifications for Nazanin Ratcliffe, British mum held in an Iranian jail. He said she was ‘training journalists in Iran’. She was not, and was actually on holiday. Statement from Thomson Reuters Foundation: @foreignofficepic.twitter.com/BhmX2dZWSM
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) November 6, 2017
Last month, a letter sent to Zaghari-Ratcliffe by former PM David Cameron was intercepted by the Iranian authorities. Iranian prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said the letter demonstrated Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s importance to the British authorities but he did not say when it was sent or provide any other details about it.