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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

UK turmoil hits bid to free jailed woman in Iran

Outgoing foreign secretary Boris Johnson had lobbied Tehran over the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, after gaffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's campaign for freedom has been delayed by UK government turmoil. Reuters
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's campaign for freedom has been delayed by UK government turmoil. Reuters

The campaign to free a British-Iranian woman imprisoned for more than two years in Tehran has been set back by the resignation of the UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson, her family said on Tuesday.

An imminent government decision on legal attempts to add pressure on the Iranian regime to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 39, have been delayed because of the turmoil within the UK political leadership over Brexit, they said in a statement.

“We have been informed that a decision will no longer happen imminently,” said the family. “This new delay is an unfortunate consequence of the resignation.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the philanthropic wing of the Thomson Reuters news organisation, had been accused of working with the company and her previous employer the BBC to help bring down the regime.

She was first detained in April 2016 as she prepared to return to the UK after a visit to the country with her daughter, now aged 4, but supporters say she has become a pawn in a broader geopolitical struggle between the two nations.

The delay is the latest blow in attempts to free Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, after Mr Johnson’s bungling efforts to intervene in her case last year set back her campaign for freedom.

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Mr Johnson had faced calls to quit after he told MPs in November that she could have been Iran to train journalists, a statement seized upon by the Iranian authorities to justify her detention. He later apologised and said that she had been in the country only to visit her family.

“I can’t believe it – what is going on in that country?” Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said in a phone call from prison, according to her family. “I am so worried – worried that the new foreign secretary will need to spend months first reading the file, and then wanting to build relations, and then make new visits. And I am left waiting.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard said despite the “prominent mistakes”, Mr Johnson had been “genuine … in his commitment to finally resolving her case” and called for him to continue the campaign for the backbenches after quitting over the government’s Brexit policy.

“It was clear to us all that he expressed a genuine willingness to leave no stone unturned, and for a few months we felt the momentum,” said Mr Ratcliffe.

Mr Johnson’s successor, the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, is the constituency MP for some of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s relatives and has been briefed by them on the detained woman’s plight. He has been “thoughtful” in his advice, said the family.

The development comes amid a period of heightened tension following United States President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of an estimated 30 dual nationals held in Iran.