Iranian state television has used UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s recent comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to discredit her, reiterate claims that she is a spy and justify her continued imprisonment.
The five-minute news feature, which was broadcast on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s (IRIB) Channel 2 on November 8, stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists at the time of her arrest, that her assertions that she had been visiting family were not true, and that the foreign secretary’s comments prove that the British-Iranian dual national was in Iran as part of an espionage plot.
The claims had previously appeared on the Iranian judiciary’s website. Other Iranian media outlets have now covered the story, referring to Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a spy.
The IRIB feature said Revolutionary Guards agents had arrested Zaghari-Ratcliffe at Imam Khomeini airport, and identified her as “one of the leading figures” in networks working to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
“After the arrest of this person, a widespread media assault started against Iran especially from the United Kingdom,” the program said, using clips from BBC Persian and photographs of Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to illustrate its report. It said the so-called media attack was an attempt to launch a “soft overthrow” of Iranian leaders, and it dismissed UK claims that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was innocent.
The program said that “one sentence” from Boris Johnson had made efforts to convince Iranian authorities that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was innocent irrelevant.
“The unintended admission of Boris Johnson that Iranian journalists were being trained by Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe was a gaffe that the British government could not find a cover for,” the program stated.
The feature also alleged that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had identified herself as a human rights activist with Thomsons Reuters Foundation and admitted to meeting with journalists in various countries, including Morocco and Lebanon. It described her employers Thomsons Reuters as a “multi-national company” that promotes “democracies in the Western style.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique issued a statement asserting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a project manager in the foundation’s media development team, and said the foundation did not carry out advocacy work. “Nazanin has never been a journalist, hence could never have trained journalists,” she said. She reiterated that her employee had been on vacation at the time of her arrest.
Speaking on the BBC’s World At One on November 9, British Labour MP Tulip Siddiq said Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s parents, who live in Tehran, were “distraught,” “overcome with grief,” and “speechless” after watching the news feature about their daughter. Siddiq represents the north London constituency where Nazanin lived with her husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella before her trip to Tehran for the Persian new year in spring 2016. She was arrested as she tried to return home to the UK.
What the UK Government Must do Next
The IRIB clip was broadcast just a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told his counterpart Boris Johnson that Zaghari-Ratcliffe being brought in front of a revolutionary court unexpectedly on November 4 was unrelated to comments he had made about the dual national. Johnson had erroneously told a parliamentary committee that she had been training journalists when she was arrested.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that Boris Johnson is due to visit Iran before the end of the year, and that he plans to visit Zaghari-Ratcliffe when he is there. “When the Foreign Secretary goes to Iran, I would like to be on the plane with him,” said Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband in a statement. He asked to meet with Johnson as soon as possible.
Ratcliffe and the Free Nazanin campaign also urged that the UK government appeal to Iran’s Foreign Ministry to acknowledge that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been visiting family at the time of her arrest, and to formally and publicly request the article on the judiciary’s website be amended to reflect this fact. They also demanded that the British Embassy in Tehran circulate the Foreign Secretary’s clarifications in Persian to the Iranian media, and post the comments on the embassy website.
On November 9, the campaign group that brought Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for her to be put under diplomatic protection. Human rights organization Redress said that, in light of the “continued fallout” from the foreign secretary’s remarks, and given that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “personal history, employment, financial and other ties to the UK make clear that her predominant nationality is British,” the UK government must assert diplomatic protection of its dual national citizen against Iran. Redress, which based its statement on legal opinion issued by two law firms, Doughty Street Chambers and Matrix Chambers, said Nazanin is particularly vulnerable because it appears that she has been targeted because of her British nationality.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and supporters reiterate that while “events of the past week have snowballed,” they fully acknowledge that the Iranian authorities are to blame for imprisoning and continuing to hold Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “It is the Iranian authorities that have imprisoned Nazanin, it is the Iranian authorities that are actively spreading lies about her, and it is the Iranian authorities that have been using her in their political games these 586 days.” At the same time, they urge the UK government to admit the urgency and gravity of the matter, and to take action immediately.