In a January 5 statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi accused UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt of "hasty" and "absurd" remarks against Iran.
"Unfortunately, the British foreign secretary has made hasty and false remarks several times in recent days about an issue which has basically nothing to do with his country," Ghasemi said.
He added that Hunt’s claims showed a lack of knowledge about the case.
Ghasemi was referring to the case of an Iranian-British woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held at Tehran's notorious Evin prison since April 2016.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation when she was arrested at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran in 2016 and later sentenced to five years in prison for spying, a charge she has repeatedly denied.
Speaking on BBC’s Radio 4’s Today program on December 28, Hunt said, “Nazanin isn’t the only person who is being detained (in Iran), despite being totally innocent, as a pawn of diplomatic leverage.”
He called Iran’s stance "monstrous," noting, “On Boxing Day (December 26), Nazanin was 40 years old, and she has been imprisoned for more than half of her 4-year-old daughter’s life. This is monstrous; it is totally unjust.”
“Iran is a country which has a great civilization behind it. One of the oldest civilizations in the world. They want to be respected by other countries. This is not the way to do it -- to imprison an innocent woman like this -- and I really hope they will think again," he said.
“We have diplomatic differences with many countries across the world, but we don’t have other countries who lock up innocent people as a tool of diplomatic leverage, and it has to stop.”
On January 4, Hunt announced that Iran had denied medical care to Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now gone on hunger strike, and said it was "shameful" for Tehran.
Earlier on January 3, Hunt wrote on Twitter, "Nazanin is innocent and must be allowed to come home. How can the Iranian authorities allow an innocent mother to feel she needs to resort to this, simply for justice and access to medical care?"
Retaliating, Qassemi fired back on January 5 by dismissing Hunt's remarks as meddlesome. "I deplore the use of such terms and expressions by him (Hunt). He has made 'hasty and incorrect' comments about an issue that is basically not the business of his government," he said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, along with fellow inmate Nargess Mohammadi, has been on hunger strike since January 3 to protest the lack of medical treatment at Evin.
Avoiding Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case directly, Ghasemi criticized Hunt in his statement, maintaining, "The British foreign secretary had better take a look at his country's record in the Middle East during recent years and decades and see the humanitarian catastrophes and crises imposed on regional nations by his country’s policies and support for terrorist groups and aggressor countries."
Without elaborating, he added that the United Kingdom had a role in the deplorable conditions of the Yemeni, Syrian, and Palestinian people, including widespread destruction, diseases, displacement, poverty, and starvation.
In an emotional video message released last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, lamented that December 28 would be her 1,000th day in prison.