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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Iran airs more allegations against detained British woman

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, already serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the 'soft toppling' of Iran's government while travelling there with her toddler daughter, now faces new charges that could add 16 years to her prison term

Demonstrators march in support of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in London on November 25, 2017. Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Demonstrators march in support of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in London on November 25, 2017. Peter Nicholls / Reuters

Iranian state television has aired more allegations against a detained Iranian-British woman, something her husband said on Sunday appeared timed to further pressure London as it considers making a £400 million (Dh1.96bn) payment to Tehran.

The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has gained momentum in recent weeks as British foreign minister Boris Johnson faces tremendous criticism at home over his handling of it.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, already serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while travelling there with her toddler daughter, now faces new charges that could add 16 years to her prison term.

On Thursday, Iranian state television aired a seven-minute special report on Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It included close-ups of an April 2010 pay stub from her previous employer, the BBC World Service Trust.

It also included an e-mail from June 2010 in which she wrote about the "ZigZag Academy," a BBC World Service Trust project in which the trust trained "young aspiring journalists from Iran and Afghanistan through a secure online platform".

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe left the BBC in 2011 and then joined the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. Both her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and Thomson Reuters have repeatedly stressed that she was not training journalists or involved in any work regarding Iran while there.

Upon seeing the news while in jail, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe collapsed, had a panic attack, and had to be injected with a vitamin B complex and a sedative to calm her down, her husband told British media.

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The state television report comes as the British foreign minister continues to face criticism after telling a British parliamentary committee that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "teaching people journalism" when she was arrested last year. Though Mr Johnson later corrected himself, the Iranian television report made a point to highlight his remarks.

Speaking on Sunday, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband said the report and other Iranian comments about his wife seemed timed to exert as much pressure as possible on the British government. He said the material appeared to be from his wife's e-mail, which investigators from the hard-line Revolutionary Guard immediately gained access to after her arrest.

"It's trying to justify the new charges," Mr Ratcliffe said.

It comes as Britain and Iran discuss the release of some £400m held by London, a payment Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution soon installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

Authorities in London and Tehran deny that the payment has any link to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But a prisoner exchange in January last year that freed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans saw the United States make a $400m cash delivery to Iran the same day. That money too involved undelivered military equipment from the shah's era, though some US politicians have criticised the delivery as a ransom payment.

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