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Boris Johnson's 'Mistake' Could Cost British-Iranian Aid Worker Her Freedom

A misleading statement from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has once again thrown the fate of British-Iran aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe into uncertainty.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been accused by Iranian officials of being a “spy” with intentions to incite a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. The British-Iranian national was arrested on April 3rd 2016 at Tehran airport while travelling home with her two-year-old daughter Gabriella, who was prevented from returning to her father in the UK and placed in the care of her Iranian relatives.

The accused’s family and employer (Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charitable organization) have vehemently denied the allegations, stating that she was only in the country to visit family. At a hearing in the summer of 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in an Iranian prison, some of which she has spent in solitary confinement. 

Now, the situation appears to have worsened. During an address on November 1st to a foreign affairs select committee, Boris Johnson commented that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching people journalism” at the time of her arrest. The remark was made as part of a larger condemnation about the actions of Iranian officials.

Three days afterwards, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was called for an unscheduled court hearing in which Johnson’s comments were presented as evidence that the 39-year-old was in fact engaged in “propaganda against the regime.” It appears there is a now a threat that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence - which was already under scrutiny - could be extended.

Despite stating that the Iranian foreign minister had told him “that any recent developments in the [Zaghari-Ratcliffe] case had no link to [his] testimony,” Johnson has since attempted to clarify his position.



“The UK government has no doubt that [Zaghari-Ratcliffe] was on holiday in Iran when she was arrested last year and that was the sole purpose of her visit,” the foreign secretary said in a statement to The House of Commons.

“My point was that I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime - not that I wanted to lend any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity. I accept that my remarks could have been clearer in that respect and I am glad to provide this clarification.”

However, Johnson’s actions continue to be the subject of widespread criticism.

"He has fed into their propaganda and it could easily be used against her in a forthcoming trial," Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sister-in-law, Dr Rebecca Ratcliffe, told the BBC.

Both the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have called for Johnson’s resignation.

Richard Ratcliffe, who has been campaigning tirelessly for his wife’s release, has asked Johnson to meet with him, and for the two of them to visit Iran together. Reports suggest that a phone conversation between Ratcliffe and Johnson has taken place, but there has been no word from the foreign secretary about his plans to deal with this issue in the coming weeks.