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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Husband of Briton in Iran jail rejects calls for UK foreign minister Boris Johnson to resign

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe called upon Boris Johnson "to solve this mess created in your name"

British foreign minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign after he erroneously said a British woman in jail in Iran had been training journalists. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP Photo
British foreign minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign after he erroneously said a British woman in jail in Iran had been training journalists. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP Photo

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran, has rejected calls for Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, to resign, saying he feared that would further endanger her position.

In an open letter to Mr Johnson, Richard Ratcliffe said the Iranian authorities were preparing a new espionage case against his wife and were exploiting the gaffe by the senior British politician to reinforce their case. Mr Johnson erroneously told a committee hearing that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalists in Iran when she was detained.

“Your mistake in saying that Nazanin was in Iran training journalists — as opposed to the reality: that she was there on holiday with our daughter Gabriella, visiting her family — has raised the stakes for my wife,” Mr Ratcliffe wrote. “Your words are being used against her by Tehran to rationalise her imprisonment and as grounds for a new court case against her.

“I want you to solve this mess created in your name.”

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The prospect of a new sentence, which would add another five years to her time in prison, has seen calls for Mr Johnson to go come from both Conservative MPs and retired officials. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, wrote on Monday that Mr Johnson was the figurehead of a crisis in the ministerial team. “[T]he foreign secretary should have resigned having apparently failed to read his brief and thereby possibly land a British mother in Iran with a longer jail sentence.”

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella Family Handout via Reuters
Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella Family Handout via Reuters

The letter was written after the husband spoke by phone to Mr Johnson for the first time and revealed that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was deeply distressed in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. “She has lost control of her emotions because she has lost all control over her life,” Mr Ratcliffe wrote. “She’s seen herself on Iranian State TV. She cried over the coverage, and felt it was a violation that they used pictures from our family photo album. It is too much pressure on her. She feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

She has also suffered a breast cancer scare.

The prime minister’s office intervened on Monday to clarify that the Iranian-born charity worker was travelling privately when she was held. “The government’s position on this is clear. She was there on holiday. It wasn’t for any other purpose,” a Downing St spokesman said.

Mr Ratcliffe added Mr Johnson had agreed to ask his officials to consider granting diplomatic status to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, so that representations to Iran could increase.

Since her arrest at Tehran airport in April 2016, she has been handed down a five-year jail sentence for sedition. The couple’s daughter Gabriella has been staying with her maternal grandparents, losing her English identity.

“Gabriella can’t remember her life before Iran. Her English is almost gone — she speaks Farsi now. She asks what clothes she has in London, what toys, what her room is like. To her, her home here seems like Harry Potter — another world of strange languages and sudden packages in the post,” the accountant wrote.

With Mr Johnson preparing for an official visit to Iran, Mr Ratcliffe has asked to be included in the official delegation. Describing his wife as a diplomatic pawn to serve wider Iranian interests, he warned the Iran regime sought benefit from her incarceration.

“Nazanin is being held because she is British and is being used as a bargaining chip against the UK, now justified by your words,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

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