In Brief

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘brought to tears’ by Johnson comments

British mother imprisoned in Iran desperate following Foreign Secretary’s gaffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is “on the verge of a nervous breakdown” and was “brought to tears” by Boris Johnson’s incorrect and potentially disastrous comments about why she was in Iran when she was arrested, according to her husband.

British aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport with her then 18-month-old daughter in April last year, accused of trying to overthrow the Iranian regime and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. 

She was one of several Iranians with dual nationality to be detained over a matter of months, in what was “seen as an attempt by the Revolutionary Guards to undermine not just the president [Hassan Rouhani], but the very process of thawing relations with the West”, says the BBC.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has consistently maintained she was on holiday visiting family in Iran, but Foreign Secretary Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee earlier this month that she was there “training journalists”.

His remarks “were seized upon as a confession in the Iranian media and are believed to have left her facing an additional five years in prison”, says The Guardian.

Describing a phone call with his wife, Richard Ratcliffe said that lumps had been found in her breasts that required an ultrasound scan, that her state of mind had deteriorated, and that she was now “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.

“She expressed anger at the Guards, but also at the Foreign Secretary, that it had become such a shambles,” he added.

Ratcliffe - described by HuffPost’s Paul Waugh as “showing a dignity and understanding that some Tory MPs believe our Foreign Secretary lacks” - added that he didn’t want Johnson to be sacked, because Johnson could do more good by now trying to secure her release.

But that hope suffered another blow this weekend, when Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he did not know why Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Tehran when she was arrested. “One of the things I want to stress is that there is no reason why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be in prison in Iran, so far as any of us know,” Gove said during on appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“Perhaps it was a deliberate if misguided act of solidarity with his on-off foe [Johnson] rather than stupidity,” says The Times’s Matt Chorley.

Labour minister Tulip Siddiq, who is Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, tweeted: “Astonishing that two of the leading Brexiteers, Boris and Gove, can’t get the facts straight.”

Tory MP Anna Soubry also tore into Gove for sticking up for Johnson.

“It’s just bizarre to try and stand up for what Boris has done,” Soubry said on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour. “It’s not a question that Boris has said something that could be wrongly interpreted. He was very clear in what he said, and he was wrong. This woman is wholly innocent. She’s done nothing wrong…the solidarity should be with Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe.”

Politically, however, “Johnson is slightly safer after Richard Ratcliffe’s words”, says Paul Waugh.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while Boris should have been fired a while ago, “we should all reflect on what Richard is saying this morning”.  

Meanwhile, Professor Mads Andenas, a former UN special rapporteur on arbitrary detention, told Today that government ministers should “be consistent in not casting doubt on her story”.

“From my point of view it looks like a cock-up. They haven’t taken the briefing notes seriously,” he said.  

This morning Johnson told reporters that his department were “working very, very hard and intensively and impartially on all those cases”.

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