UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will travel to Iran to attempt to negotiate the release of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The visit comes after he bungled a speech and likely lengthened her sentence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a mother-of-one, was jailed over claims she was spying and “spreading propaganda,” and has been imprisoned since April 2016. She and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, insist she was on holiday to visit relatives.
In a speech to Parliament, Johnson inaccurately said Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, was training journalists, leading to outrage in the capital, Tehran. Iranian officials claimed Johnson had exposed Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lies.
During his first visit to Iran as foreign secretary this weekend, Johnson will attempt to secure her release. Zaghari-Ratcliffe will appear in court on Sunday facing new charges relating to espionage where her five-year sentence could be increased to 10.
Johnson has faced calls to stand down over the damage he did to her case. Johnson met with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, in November to discuss calls for her to be provided with diplomatic protection. Ratcliffe said he had wanted to accompany Johnson, but the Foreign Office felt his presence would be “too political,” according to the BBC.
Johnson is now on a mission to improve British ties with Iran, as Prime Minister Theresa May negotiates Britain’s exit from the European Union. He will meet with senior Iranian figures, including the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and will point out Britain’s friendship with Iran. The foreign secretary’s agenda will include boosting London and Tehran’s working relationship.
Ratcliffe, who is now severely distressed, was arrested at Tehran Airport and has been in a Tehran jail for nearly two years. Her supporters say she has recently had a health assessment to see if she is fit enough to remain in prison. She is reportedly experiencing a breakdown and has found lumps in her breasts.
Johnson is expected to raise Iran’s supply of weapons to militant group Hezbollah. He said on Thursday: “The supply of rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon and helping the Houthis to launch missiles against Riyadh. This is causing fear. This is causing terror in parts of the Middle East. This is disruptive and dangerous behaviour. That is the message I will be taking.”
Since the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal, assets were unfrozen in the US and some sanctions lifted, but not all. Problems remain for Britain to become involved in the Iranian banking sector since any deal with banned Iranian entities can lead to fines from the US.
Johnson said he does not expect an immediate breakthrough in the Ratcliffe case.