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BBC: Boris Johnson to ring Iran over jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Boris Johnson to ring Iran over jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Boris JohnsonImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Boris Johnson said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching

Boris Johnson is expected to phone his counterpart in Iran later, amid fears that comments he made could lead to a woman having her jail sentence doubled.

The foreign secretary last week said British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "teaching" journalism when she was arrested in 2016.

She is serving a five-year sentence, imposed over allegations of involvement in "propaganda against the regime".

Her family maintains she was on holiday to visit family and is innocent.

She was summoned to court on Saturday where Mr Johnson's comment was cited as new evidence as to what she was doing in Iran at the time of her arrest.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the "worst thing" Mr Johnson could do now was "suddenly go quiet and to create this problem without making any clarifications".

"You can't make a muddle and then leave it. That would be the worst of both worlds," he said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to jail following a court hearing into whether she was attempting to overthrow the government.

She denies all the allegations against her, but lost her final appeal in April.

She has since faced two more charges relating to an accusation of plotting to topple the regime in Tehran.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the BBC, but insisted the 2016 visit was for her daughter to meet her grandparents.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year sentence in Iran

However, appearing before MPs on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week, Mr Johnson appeared to contradict that.

He criticised Iran over the case before saying: "When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.

"[Neither] Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her family has been informed about what crime she has actually committed. And that I find extraordinary, incredible."

Four days later, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned to court where the foreign secretary's comments were cited as fresh evidence against her.

At the hearing she was accused of engaging in "propaganda against the regime".

'Make amends'

The Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights said Mr Johnson's comments "shed new light" on the charity worker and proved Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe "had visited the country for anything but a holiday".

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been eligible for parole under the early release scheme from November 23.

However, Mr Ratcliffe told the Press Association that she could now face a fresh trial before that date to block her chance of freedom.

"I think the one thing the foreign secretary could do to make amends would be if he went to visit her in the next few weeks before her trial.

"That would be a forward step," he said.

"Careless talk has a cost and there's been a lot of careless talk."

Image copyright Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Image caption Thomson Reuters Foundation says the comments "can only worsen her sentence"

Monique Villa, chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, called on Mr Johnson to "immediately correct the serious mistake he made".

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Johnson had demonstrated a "a fundamental lack of interest or concern".

A Foreign Office spokesman said Mr Johnson's remarks "provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe".

"While criticising the Iranian case against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the foreign secretary sought to explain that even the most extreme set of unproven Iranian allegations against her were insufficient reason for her detention and treatment."

Mr Johnson will speak to the Iranian foreign minister "to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented," they added.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Gove under fire for comments

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Media captionMichael Gove says he does not know why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran

Michael Gove has come under fire for saying he didn't know what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested in 2016.

Mr Gove told Andrew Marr he would "take her husband's assurance" that the British-Iranian citizen was on holiday.

He was defending the foreign secretary, whose own comments have caused concern that her sentence could be extended.

Labour said he "was more interested in protecting (Boris) Johnson's job" than Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's liberty.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Mr Gove had "compounded" Mr Johnson's "cavalier approach to international diplomacy".

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport with her 18-month-old daughter in April 2016, one of several Iranians with dual nationality to be detained over a period of months.

She was accused of trying to overthrow the Iranian regime - charges she has always denied - and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

She says she was on holiday in Iran so relatives could meet her young daughter.

The arrests were seen as part of an attempt by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to undermine President Hassan Rouhani and the process of thawing relations with the West.

Last week UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was criticised for suggesting she had been training journalists on the trip - causing concern it could cause her sentence to be lengthened.

Mr Johnson has since said the government has "no doubt" she was on holiday "and that was the sole purpose of her visit".

'Big mistake'

Asked on Sunday by Mr Marr what she had been doing in Iran, Mr Gove replied: "I don't know" adding there was "no reason Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be in prison in Iran so far as any of us know".

He went on to say her husband was the person who would know and he would take his assurance that she was on holiday.

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Media captionSadiq Khan: "If Theresa May was a strong prime minister, she'd have sacked him a long time ago"

He said: "We make a big mistake if we think the right thing to do is to blame politicians in a democracy who are trying to do the right thing for the plight of a woman who is being imprisoned by a regime that is a serial abuser of human rights."

"Who is in the dock here? Iran. It should be the actions of their judiciary and the revolutionary guards."

He added the UK should not "play their game".

'Undermining our country'

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have both called for Mr Johnson to resign for putting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe at risk.

Mr Corbyn told the Observer Mr Johnson should be sacked as foreign secretary for "undermining our country" and "putting our citizens at risk".

And Labour's Tulip Siddiq, who is Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP, told the BBC that she had repeatedly raised the details of the case in Parliament

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband said "she was just a mum on holiday"

"For Michael Gove to go on TV today and say he wasn't sure ... he should know that Nazanin was on holiday and in compounding the lie that was told about training journalists, he is only going to make life worse for my constituent."

It is understood that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard spoke to the foreign secretary on Sunday. Mr Ratcliffe told the BBC he hoped he might be able to travel to Iran with Mr Johnson to meet his wife and see his daughter, who he has not seen in person since the arrest.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Husband fears for her health

Richard Ratcliffe with wife Nazanin and daughter GabriellaImage copyright PA
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year sentence in Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman being held in Iran, has seen a specialist after finding lumps in her breasts, her husband has said.

Richard Ratcliffe also expressed concern that his wife appeared to be "on the verge of a nervous breakdown".

Iran held her in April 2016, saying she had tried to overthrow the regime.

The news comes after Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, the environment secretary, were accused of bungling the government's handling of the case.

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