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Gaffe risks more Iran jail time for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

The Thomson Reuters Foundation's Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, jailed in Iran on spy charges, has been threatened with another five years in prison after British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said she had been in working in Tehran when she was arrested in April 2016.

He made the erroneous remarks to a parliamentary select committee last week. They were swiftly denied by Foundation CEO Monique Villa.

Four days after his comments, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to an unscheduled court hearing in Iran where she was told she would face a new trial. The Iranian judiciary cited Johnson’s remarks, attributed to the British government, as new evidence which justified their initial suspicions that she was leading a coup, The Times reported.

She 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”.

Despite earlier assurances from the Iranian foreign ministry that this new case would be dropped, she was taken to court in Tehran’s Evin prison in a surprise summons on Saturday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a dual British-Iran national who was arrested 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.

On Saturday, she faced Abolghassem Salavati, the judge who sentenced her in the first trial. He was placed on the EU sanctions list in 2011 for “gross human rights violations”.

“There is a direct link between Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday and Judge Salavati, the harshest judge that you can find hearing her case on Saturday, where she is now facing a double sentence,” her husband Richard, who is British, told The Times.

“[Mr Johnson’s] misstep saying she was training journalists not that she was on holiday - contradicting what we have said all along - is being used for propaganda purposes to justify holding her.”

Her case was raised in the British parliament’s foreign affairs select committee on Wednesday, where Johnson condemned her detention.

He said: “If you look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it, at the very limit.”

The error was seized upon by the Iranian judiciary and media to frame Nazanin, her family have said.

Monique Villa corrected Johnson’s comments on Thursday, insisting she had never trained journalists or worked in Iran.

The jailed mother said she was barely able to stand up in court on Saturday.

“I am feeling awful - I don’t want to come out mentally disturbed. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. No wonder why I keep complaining of hair loss,” she told her husband.

Last month Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was threatened with three possible new charges and another 16 years behind bars. But an Iranian diplomatic delegation disputed that in a meeting with the foreign affairs committee a few weeks ago and assured the family she was eligible for early release.

The sudden change on Saturday, and confirmation of the new case, now renders that impossible, The Times said. Her family urged Johnson to correct his statement.

“Because it is confirmed that a new case has been opened, she will be unable to get early release from the old case,“ said Ratcliffe. “Boris Johnson must issue a correction before the trial.” ■

The Times