'No stone unturned' to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Boris Johnson
Wednesday 15 November 2017
Britain will appeal to Iran on humanitarian grounds to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (photo) from jail but foreign secretary Boris Johnson expressed reservations that granting her diplomatic protection would help secure her release.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment. She denies the charges.
Johnson came under pressure to resign after his recent comments that she had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in Tehran in April 2016. Critics said the comments might have prompted Iran to extend her sentence and he apologised for his remarks.
The Foundation is a charity that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News. It said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been on holiday and had not been teaching journalism in Iran.
On Wednesday, Johnson met her husband Richard Ratcliffe and told him Britain would leave no stone unturned in its bid to free her. He said the British ambassador in Tehran had earlier raised her case again with the Iranian authorities.
Johnson also stressed the importance of an appeal on humanitarian grounds, Ratcliffe told reporters, saying it had been a positive meeting.
But officials had questioned whether it would help to grant his wife diplomatic protection - a move that would explicitly make her fate an issue in state-to-state relations rather than a purely consular case.
A legal opinion prepared for human rights charity Redress said the British government could grant Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection as she is “predominantly” a British citizen who has been denied a fair trial.
“I said I thought it would be important and helpful... the foreign secretary and the Foreign Office expressed reservations,” Ratcliffe said. The Foreign Office said lawyers would meet in the next fortnight to discuss the issue further.
Ratcliffe said Johnson was “keen” to take him on a trip to Iran planned before the end of the year, which could allow him to see his wife and three-year-old daughter who is being cared for by the child’s grandparents in Iran, for the first time in 19 months.
“For me it’s very important to be going on that trip, to be standing alongside the foreign secretary and I understand that’s a big ask, it’s reasonably unprecedented but I think it’s important in our circumstances,” he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife appeared to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown and was due to have further tests after finding lumps on her breasts. He said he thought she was being used as a diplomatic bargaining chip.
“There are fights that are nothing to do with us... we’re being used as a vehicle for those fights,” he said. ■