British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on November 7 that his recent remarks about a jailed Iranian-British aid worker “could have been clearer,” but did not justify Iran increasing her jail term.
Johnson has been under pressure to publicly correct a statement made on November 1 in which he said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "simply teaching people journalism" when she was arrested in Iran in 2016.
Addressing lawmakers in the House of Commons, the foreign secretary said the British government “has no doubt that she was on holiday in Iran when she was arrested last year and that was the sole purpose of her visit.”
“My point was that I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime -- not that I wanted to lend any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity," he said.
Johnson also said that he will travel to Iran in the coming weeks and discuss all consular issues there.
He added that he would seek to meet Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his planned trip.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year jail sentence after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical establishment.
Her employer and family say she was on vacation when she went to Iran, taking her toddler daughter to meet her grandparents for the first time.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought again into court on November 4, where Johnson's comments at the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee three days earlier were was cited as new evidence against her.
At the hearing, she was accused of engaging in "propaganda against the regime."
The Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights said Johnson's comments proved Zaghari-Ratcliffe "had visited the country for anything but a holiday."
The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity for which Zaghari-Ratcliffe works, urged Johnson on November 6 to "immediately correct” the statement he made.
"She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she is project manager in my Media Development team," Monique Villa, the charity’s chief executive, said.
Villa said Johnson's "serious mistake...can only worsen her sentence."
"I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazanin has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into court," she said.
The charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe have been repeatedly denied by her family and the foundation, which operates independently of Reuters News.
In a phone call to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Johnson said his November 1 remarks provided "no justifiable basis" for further legal action, Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement.
The statement said Zarif told the foreign secretary the developments in the case over the weekend "were unrelated" to the foreign secretary's remarks.
Tulip Siddiq, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson "needs to resign" if Zaghari-Ratcliffe spends an extra day in jail because of his comments.
With reporting by AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP, and the BBC