World News

British Woman Serving 5-Year Sentence in Iran Faces New Charges

Posted May 21, 2018 11:08 a.m. EDT

An Iranian-British woman imprisoned in Iran faces a new charge of “spreading propaganda against the regime,” her husband said in a statement released Monday.

Iranian judicial authorities did not confirm the new charge against the woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. An employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 for spying and planning the “soft toppling” of the Iranian government. Those accusations, which she and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, have vehemently denied, resulted in a five-year sentence.

The new charges would seem to be related to a gaffe that the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, made during a speech in parliament last year when he said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching people journalism.” In a court hearing in Iran days later, his words were cited as evidence that she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime.”

Ratcliffe said in the statement that his wife had learned of the new charge at a court hearing Saturday before Judge Abolghassem Salavati of the hard-line Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of dozens of dual nationals being held in Iran, several of them from Britain. Under Iranian law, dual nationals are considered Iranian citizens only, and so fully subject to Iranian courts.

Speculation has grown in recent months that the detention of the Britons may be tied to a long-standing legal dispute over Iran’s 1976 purchase of British tanks that were never delivered. Britain has acknowledged that it owes Iran up to 300 million pounds, a little over $400 million at current exchange rates, but says that the precise sum remains to be negotiated.

Ratcliffe, who has been campaigning for his wife over the past two years, said in the statement that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been allowed a telephone call with the British ambassador to Iran on Sunday, her first phone call with a British diplomat since her arrest.

“We are grateful to the prison authorities for finally allowing this contact,” Ratcliffe said.

He also said that his wife had asked the judge for clemency and for a furlough to celebrate her daughter’s birthday in June. The couple’s child, Gabriella, is staying with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s parents in Tehran and is not allowed to leave the country.