In Depth

Iran: what next in the battle to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

British-Iranian mother jailed for a further year after being found guilty of ‘propaganda’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been sentenced to a further year in jail and given a one-year travel ban after being found guilty of “propaganda” against the Iranian regime.

Confirming the charges against his wife, Richard Ratcliffe said the decision was “clearly a negotiating tactic” by Tehran, with discussions over the country’s nuclear programme currently ongoing in Vienna.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer said the charges related to a demonstration she attended outside the Iranian embassy in London 12 years ago, after which she gave an interview to the BBC Persian service.

‘Inhumane and wholly unjustified’

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already spent five years in jail, including months in solitary confinement where, according to her own testimony, she was subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation, as well as extensive periods of blindfolding, chaining and handcuffing.

Her first jail sentence was related to “separate spying charges” and followed her arrest in 2016 when she “visited Tehran with her daughter, Gabriella, then almost two years old, to visit her parents”, The Guardian reports. She has always denied the allegation.

Hojjat Kermani, her lawyer, argued at her second trial on charges of propaganda that “no new evidence” had been produced against her “that had not been available to the Iranian security services at the first trial”, the paper adds.

Her husband said he believed the one-year travel ban would follow the jail term, meaning she will now be unable to leave Iran for two years. She is yet to be taken to prison, her husband added, and remains under house arrest in Tehran. Plans are in place to appeal the sentence within 21 days. 

Boris Johnson said: “I don’t think it’s right at all that Nazanin should be sentenced to any more time in jail,” ITV News reports. “The government will not stop, we will redouble our efforts, and we are working with our American friends on this issue as well.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the sentencing was “totally inhumane and wholly unjustified”, adding that the government will “continue to call on Iran to release Nazanin immediately so she can return to her family in the UK”.

After speaking to his wife, Ratcliffe said she was “calm but jittery”, The Guardian says. He has “not yet spoken” to their daughter, now six, “about the implications of the news in detail, but she was aware of a development in her mother’s situation”, the paper adds.

“The threat is there, and the threat is bigger than we were fearing”, Ratcliffe told the BBC. On the possibility of being separated from his wife until 2023, he added: “I think the worst case got a bit closer.”

Nuclear backdrop

Ratcliffe has long maintained that his wife was jailed due to a debt owed by the UK over its failure to deliver tanks to Iran in 1979. But talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal have also seen her case get “caught up in negotiations”, the BBC says.

It is “not clear if the Americans and Europeans view the release of dual nationals as a hoped-for byproduct of the Vienna talks”, The Guardian reports. However, fears of “complicating the already fraught nuclear talks” have seen Western countries become “wary of raising human rights issues”, the paper adds.

This view is supported by Ratcliffe telling the paper that the Foreign Office has “not raised a dossier on her torture and mental condition with the Iranians for fear of offending them”.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Caroline Hawley writes that it is “no coincidence” that an Iranian court has come to this verdict “just as negotiations are taking place to revive the deal”. Ratcliffe has “consistently said that she’s being held as a hostage on trumped-up charges”, Hawley says, adding that there are “fears that she will only be freed if Iran gets something in exchange”.

Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Ratcliffe said that “it’s fair to say the government’s rhetoric has got stronger”, but he continued that “talk only gets you so far, there do need to be actions that hostage taking is unacceptable and there are consequences if you do it to British citizens”, the Evening Standard reports.

“It’s clearly a game of cat and mouse and things move forward and things move backwards and that’s very hard when they do move backwards,” he added.

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