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Iranian Official Denies Dual National Eligible For Early Release

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, undated.

While the lawyer of a British Iranian woman jailed in Iran had said she might be released soon, the the Judiciary confirmed that a new case has been opened against her and denied reports she might soon be released.

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

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

Both her family and Thomson Reuters Foundation have denied the charges.

In two interviews with BBC Radio 5 Live and Independent, Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said on December 21 that her wife’s lawyer has discovered that an Iranian judicial database had listed her as eligible for early release.

He said her lawyer was hopeful when he visited her in prison on December 20.

Ratcliffe also said his wife's case had previously been marked as closed, so the status change was "great news."

But the head of the judiciary in Tehran told the IRGC controlled Tasnim news agency that "Iran’s judiciary cannot confirm any of the claims in Western media about this case".

"When a decision is made, it will be announced by the Islamic Republic's judiciary or through diplomatic channels," he said.

Tasnim quoted the official as saying that besides her current conviction, there is another case against her and it is to be seen how it ends.

Nazanin's husband was filled with hope this week about her imminent release.

"Part of me is trying not to get too hopeful and just to keep calm just in case there is more to come," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "But he (her lawyer) was clearly hopeful. He told her that it's a matter of finalizing paperwork and it might be days to weeks rather than tomorrow morning,”

“But definitely it feels like the end is much closer in sight," he added.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case made headlines after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson erroneously told a British parliamentary committee that she was in Iran training journalists when she was arrested, whereas her family and employer have always insisted she was visiting family on vacation, which is also the official position of the British government.

Days later, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned to a new court hearing at which Johnson's remarks were tabled as proof that she had engaged in propaganda against the regime.

Her family and lawyer then feared her five-year sentence could be lengthened up to 16 years.

On November 7, Johnson apologized for the “distress and anguish” his November 1 remarks had caused, reiterating, “Of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity”. Addressing lawmakers in the House of Commons, he said the UK 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 told the House of Commons on November 7.

Johnson flew to Tehran for an official two-day visit on December 9, where he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, as he continued efforts to gain Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said on December 10 that Johnson and Rouhani "spoke forthrightly" on several issues, including the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, according to the BBC.

The spokesman described Johnson’s two-day visit -- only the third by a British foreign secretary to Iran since 2003 -- as "worthwhile," adding that "progress in all areas" was agreed.

Immediately after Johnson met his hosts in Tehran, a court appearance for Zaghari-Ratcliffe was postponed.