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'New evidence' against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Iran

Iran has made new accusations against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Thomson Reuters Foundation staffer it has jailed for trying to overthrow the regime.

Iranian state television has claimed that Tehran has evidence that she was training Iranian journalists in 2010.

The allegation is important because Boris Johnson, British foreign secretary, inadvertently suggested that she had been arrested for training journalists for the Foundation. After pressure from her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and the Foundation, Johnson accepted that he had misspoken and apologised.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, and her family insist that she was on holiday visiting her parents with the couple’s young daughter when she was arrested in April last year. Six months later she was jailed for five years.

The new evidence came in the form of a 2010 payslip confirming that before joining the Foundation she had worked for the BBC World Service Trust. The report also referred to an e-mail, apparently taken from her laptop, which describes the trust’s work as including training “young aspiring journalists from Iran and Afghanistan through a secure online platform”. It was known that she had worked for the trust and the dates given were six years before her trip to Iran.

BBC Media Action, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s former employer (then known as the World Service Trust), said she was never employed in this capacity.  

“Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was never a journalism trainer but undertook administrative duties such as travel bookings, typing, and filing,” it said in a press statement.  

“It is factually wrong to state that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ever worked for BBC Persian. She did not.”

The statement noted that BBC World Trust did deliver “an online journalism development project aimed at young people in Iran” which ended in 2012, and briefed the Iranian Ministry of the Interior on this project “some years ago”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe left the BBC in 2011 and then joined the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She already faces new charges of spreading propaganda against the regime, which could add to her sentence.

Johnson’s slip was picked up quickly by Iranian media which have continued to suggest that it was an admission of guilt by the British government, even after he issued a clarification in Farsi and spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The British government is now considering repaying Iran £400 million which Tehran claims it is owed as a refund for an unfulfilled tank order cancelled at the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Ratcliffe told reporters that the new claims could be an attempt by the Iranian authorities to put pressure on Britain to speed up agreement over the payment. “It’s trying to justify the new charges,” he said. London and Tehran have denied that the proposed payment is a ransom.

A similar row between the United States and Iran over the jailing of Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American journalist working for The Washington Post, was resolved last year when a similar frozen payment of $400 million (£300 million) dating back to 1979 was released by Washington.

The new claims came a day after Zaghari-Ratcliffe addressed a rally in London via a mobile phone and loudspeaker on Saturday. She thanked the assembled crowd for their support.

“All that is on my mind is to be back home and to be back with my family,” she said to those who attended the march to the Islamic Centre of England to hand in an open letter written by a group of local mothers asking for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. “I’m so grateful for everybody’s support and love... I am so overwhelmed and moved,” she added. ■

The Times