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Detained British-Iranian Mother Faces New Charges


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe imprisoned in Iran since 2016, with her infant daughter, separated from her during the arrest. Undated

British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, detained in Iran on charges of sedition and spying, was taken to an unscheduled court hearing on November 4, the campaign for her freedom announced, adding that her lawyer had not been present.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was informed she would be tried on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime, at an unscheduled hearing in front of a Revolutionary Court judge, her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said on November 6.

She had also been told that, if found guilty, she would face a doubled sentence as a repeat offender.

Britain's foreign secretary phoned his Iranian counterpart Tuesday to express "his anxiety over the continued suffering" Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Boris Johnson has been under pressure to publicly correct a statement he made about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian who is serving a five-year sentence for plotting the "soft toppling" of Iran's government.

Meanwhile, the Free Nazanin campaign noted it is against the law to try a person twice on the same charges.

The campaign also said Nazanin’s new legal case might be connected to recent comments by UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson about the jailed mother.

The Times reported that new charges of propaganda against the regime could now add a further five years to her sentence.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested and separated from her 2-year-old daughter, Gabriella, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in April 2016 at Tehran's airport as they were about to return to the United Kingdom after a family visit.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical ruling system and sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016.

Her family and employer denied the charges.

Responding to the foreign minister’s remarks, Monique Villa, chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, called on him to "immediately correct the serious mistake he made."

Nevertheless, the Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights immediately stepped in to conclude, "His [Boris Johnson’s] statement shows Zaghari-Ratcliffe had visited the country for anything but a holiday.”

"For months, it was claimed Nazanin was a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested. Johnson's statement has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin," it announced.

London reacted to the judiciary’s comments, insisting Johnson’s remarks should not be used to bring additional charges.

"Last week's remarks by the foreign secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges," a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said. "While criticizing the Iranian case against 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."

Villa also said in a statement, "Nazanin is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she is a project manager in my media development team."

The Thompson Reuters Foundation is a charity organization independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

However, according Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was responsible for teaching online journalism for the BBC Persian-language service "with the goal of attracting and teaching individuals for propaganda operations against Iran."

Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service Group, said earlier this year that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had never worked for the BBC's Persian service.

Moreover, Jafari-Dolatabadi said, “Nazanin used to teach the techniques for creating email accounts under assumed names and very long and sophisticated passwords, and using software designed for encrypting text and information.”

A letter allegedly written by former UK Prime Minister David Cameron was also evidence against her, Jafari-Dolatabadi maintained.

“The letter demonstrated her importance to the British authorities,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said she was not immediately able to comment on whether Cameron had written a letter but confirmed that both he and his successor, Theresa May, had raised Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with Iranian authorities.

"We will continue to raise all our dual-national detainees, including Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case, with the Iranian government at every available opportunity," she added.

United Nations human rights experts have also joined the chorus of international human rights organizations appealing to Iran to immediately release Zaghari-Ratcliffe, saying they have grave concerns for her welfare.

“We consider Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated,” the UN experts said. “These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law.”

They added: “We are gravely concerned over the mental and physical impact that the new charges have had on Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We call on the Iranian authorities to release her at once and to guarantee her physical and psychological well-being.”

With reporting by AP
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