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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Briton faces longer jail term in Iran over UK’s ‘unpaid debt’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces new court hearing amid rising tensions over nuclear deal

Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran since April 2016. John Stillwell / PA via AP
Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran since April 2016. John Stillwell / PA via AP

A mother held in an Iranian jail for more than two years faces a new criminal trial.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been accused of spreading anti-regime propaganda because of the UK’s failure to pay a four-decade bill over an aborted arms deal, her family said on Tuesday.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed in April 2016 for allegedly working against the Iranian state while employed by the charitable wing of two news organisations. Her family said she learned a new case had been reopened last week and the decision on a prosecution may be made this week.

The development in Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case emerged during a period of heightened tension following United States President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and before a planned meeting between the foreign ministers of the UK and Iran in Brussels on Tuesday.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has a three-year-old daughter, is one of up to 30 dual nationals held in Iran on what campaigners are trumped-up charges. She was visiting her parents in Iran with her daughter when she was arrested.

There has been a sharp uptick in detentions since the signing of the 2015 nuclear accord and amid a continuing internal feud between competing factions of the regime. Two British-Iranian dual nationals and a third woman who worked for a British cultural organisation have been detained in the past month.

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A judge told Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe that he was powerless to release her because every time he asked to review her case “the message comes back that the UK has not yet paid its debt”, her family said in a statement.

The family said the judge's comments in a meeting with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe related to a long-running dispute over a deal to buy UK-built tanks that was cancelled after the 1979 revolution.

Britain was ordered by a trade court in 2009 to repay £390 million (Dh1,940m) to Iran, but has yet to repay the money because of wrangling over outstanding interest owed, and the difficulties of paying the money without breaching the international sanctions regime.

Richard Ratcliffe, the detained woman’s husband, said that the case of his wife and other detained Britons needed to be “at the top of his priority list” when UK foreign minister Boris Johnson discusses the nuclear deal with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he would work with his colleagues in Germany and France to ensure that business could continue with Iran despite the decision by the US to pull of the nuclear deal. “He should not just do his utmost to protect British commercial interests. He should also commit to protecting British citizens,” Mr Ratcliffe said.