Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was unexpectedly brought before a Revolutionary Court on Saturday, November 4, just days after British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson erroneously told a UK parliamentary committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran at the time of her arrest.
The jailed Iranian-British dual national was brought before Judge Abolghasem Salivati to answer a new charge of “propaganda against the regime.” The case against her is based on the same alleged evidence used in her August 2016 trial — a procedure that is illegal under Iranian law and that amounts to a double sentence. If found guilty, she could have a further 16 years added on to her five-year prison sentence.
On November 4, Salavati presented Zaghari-Ratcliffe with a new charge sheet, which she refused to sign without the presence of her lawyer. According to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s account of the hearing, her refusal angered Salavati. “If you wouldn’t sign, why should you expect to speak?” he shouted at her when she asked to make a statement. “I told you. I do not have time to listen to anything you want to say.”
On November 1, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee at the UK Parliament, and finally condemned Iran over its jailing and continued incarceration of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016. He also said he would visit her in prison when he visits the Islamic Republic. The Foreign Office has informed Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and the Free Nazanin campaign that a visit will take place this autumn, though it has not confirmed a date.
But Johnson made a significant factual error when speaking to the committee about her case. He said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, had been training journalists when she was arrested, when actually she had been on an annual visit to see family.
“We demand a clear statement from the Foreign Secretary to correct his mistake – in Parliament and in Tehran at the earliest opportunity,” said Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband.
It is important that the Foreign Secretary speaks out, but also that he avoids making false statements because of their potential consequences and manipulations.”
Richard Ratcliffe warned that the blunder would be used against his wife in court. The fact that she was summoned before Judge Salavati just three days after Johnson’s comments suggests they are already being used against her.
At the same time, the gaffe has led to greater media coverage of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ordeal, which has been covered in the UK press but has often been overshadowed by other big British stories, including Brexit negotiations and the persistent problems of the Conservative government since calling a snap election in June 2017. And, as IranWire director Maziar Bahari points out, "most of those who’ve been criticizing Boris have been silent about Nazanin’s plight for such a long time."
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and supporters have repeatedly called for the British Foreign Office to take a stand, but they also call for the international community to call Iran out on its gross violations of a British-Iranian citizen's rights. "It is the Iranian authorities who are acting entirely illegally — from the new charges brought against her using the same so-called evidence that led to her previous conviction to her treatment while in prison," says Bahari. "There’s nothing that justifies her being tortured, and even if she was training journalists, this is not a crime in Iran. Iran’s officials must take responsibility for what they’ve done, and no amount of diplomacy, whether perfectly pitched or clumsily handled, will make this happen."
On November 5, Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, which functions under the umbrella of the country’s judiciary, published an article on its website stating that the foreign secretary’s statement proved that Zaghari-Ratcliffe “had visited the country for anything but a holiday” and that it “shed new light on the realities about Nazanin.”
Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, urged the foreign secretary to correct his mistake. “This accusation from Judge Salavati can only worsen her sentence,” she said, adding that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is “obviously a bargaining chip between the UK government and Iran.”