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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Iran casts doubt over reports Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is eligible for early release

The country’s justice ministry said it could not confirm claims made in the British media that the aid worker was eligible for early release

A photo of Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran, on display at their home in north London. John Stillwell/PA via AP
A photo of Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran, on display at their home in north London. John Stillwell/PA via AP

Iran’s justice ministry has cast doubt over reports that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian aid worker jailed in Tehran, will be released from prison soon.

On Thursday, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told media in the UK that his wife’s lawyer had seen a change in her status on the Iranian judiciary database and that she was eligible for early release.

However, on Friday the head of the justice department in Tehran province appeared to deny the reports.

"Iran’s judiciary cannot confirm any of the claims in Western media about this case," Gholamhossein Esmaili, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

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"When a decision is made, it will be announced by the Islamic Republic's judiciary or through diplomatic channels," he said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 while travelling in Iran with her young daughter, Gabriella. She was sentenced to five years in jail, accused of plotting the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government.

Her case has featured strongly in the media since Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson mistakenly claimed the 39-year-old had been training journalists in the country, something her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and her family have strongly denied.

Mr Johnson’s mistake led to calls for him to resign should Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence be extended because of his remark.

He travelled to Tehran recently to lobby for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release and for the release of other dual nationals in prison in Iran.

However, the justice department official said there was a new case that had been brought against the mother of one, the first time an official has admitted to such.

"Besides serving her current sentence, she has also another ongoing case against her in court... We do not know if she would be found guilty or not," Mr Esmaili said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family said in October that the new case carried charges, including joining and receiving money from organizations working to overthrow the Islamic Republic and attending a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London, that could mean another 16 years in prison.

The Tasnim agency also said that Mr Esmaili had dismissed reports that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be released in a prisoner swap deal.