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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Charity worker faces 16 more years in Iranian jail over ‘farcical’ national security charges

British-Iranian national is being held over claims that she was plotting to overthrow the regime through her work with the BBC and the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Supporters hold a picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who faces a longer jail term in Iran for what her supporters claim are trumped up charges.  Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Supporters hold a picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who faces a longer jail term in Iran for what her supporters claim are trumped up charges. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

A charity worker jailed for five years for plotting to topple the Iranian government faces new charges that could see her sentenced to a further 16 years, her family said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody since her arrest at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was about to return to the UK with her two-year-old daughter following a family visit.

The British-Iranian dual national has spent seven months in solitary confinement and has been diagnosed with advanced depression, according to her lawyers.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe – who previously worked for the BBC and was working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time of he arrest – has been accused of working against the regime, a charged denied by herself, the family and her employers.

The British government said last month that the future course of “tricky” relations between Britain and Iran depended in part on the fate of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was sentenced to five years for undisclosed national security offences.

The family has, however, criticised the UK government saying it has failed to deal robustly with the Iranian regime over the saga. In the week that Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, warned of diplomatic ramifications over the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the largest business agreement was agreed between the two countries since the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the family said in a statement.

“It is not enough just to focus in public on their business deals, and to keep a silent pretence,” said her husband Richard Ratcliffe in a statement. “It looks like heads in the sands.”

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Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was eligible for early release from next month and had believed that she would be freed when she was unexpectedly taken to a court on Sunday.

Instead she was told that she faced three new charges. The new case was opened at the insistence of the elite Revolutionary Guard, according to her family’s campaign.

She was accused of joining organisations working against the regime and for attending a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in London based on a photo found on her private email account, according to the group.

“I was not trying to overthrow the regime. I love my country. It is ridiculous. I have not done anything since I was sentenced,” she said in a statement released by the family. “I have just been a prisoner in the corner, enduring quietly. What have they done this for?”

Her lawyer was not contacted about the hearing, the family said. The laying of the charges means that she is now not eligible for early release and the family paid £6,000 to ensure that she was not returned to solitary confinement.

“This farcical cycle against her has to stop, and the UK must act strongly and decisively to bring her home,” said Carla Ferstman, director of human rights group REDRESS which is working with the family.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of several dual nationals held in Iran on espionage charges. Dual nationals are not recognised by Iran, do not receive consular assistance and often face secret charges in closed-door hearings.

A UN panel of experts said the practice was part of an emerging pattern since the 2015 Iran nuclear detail.