Boris Johnson has come under renewed pressure over the plight of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after it emerged Iranian state TV framed his ‘false’ comment about her as a “confession”.
The news report has prompted further calls for the foreign secretary to apologise and correct his comments, despite clarifying them with his Iranian counterpart earlier this week. The situation has also reignited calls for him to resign.
Johnson told a select committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists – rather than being on holiday with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella – when she was arrested and jailed in Iran 18 months ago.
The remark led to the 37-year-old making an unscheduled court appearance on Saturday where Johnson’s comment was used as evidence against her on a fresh charge of propaganda against the regime.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now facing being jailed for a further five years, her husband Richard Ratcliffe told HuffPost UK earlier this week when he urged Johnson to urgently correct his “error”.
On Tuesday Johnson stated that he “could have been clearer” and phoned his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in attempt to clarify that his comments did not, as the Iranian Judiciary High Council for Human Rights suggested “shed new light” on the case.
Facebook Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe pictured with her husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella
Johnson explained that he was trying to make the point that he disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, rather than suggesting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had in fact done so: “The UK government has no doubt that she was on holiday in Iran when she was arrested,” he told parliament.
On Wednesday evening a news bulletin aired on Iranian television referring to Johnson’s earlier comments as evidence that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was conducting illegal affairs in Iran, Richard Ratcliffe told the Guardian.
The Iranian judiciary’s news website also reportedly carried a news article on with the headline: “Spy or human rights activist”.
Iran’s state television channel, IRGC, featured an item on the case titled “Confession” in which they showed Johnson speaking in the commons.
According to the Guardian, the item said: “Mr Johnson’s inadvertent confession meant that [she] was teaching some Iranian journalists – it was a gaffe that can not be covered up. The sole sentence uttered from the mouth of the UK foreign secretary put the efforts of the British media [propaganda] in vain.”
Hadi Nili, who works for BBC Persia, said the news item had called Johnson’s comment an “unintended confession” by the UK Government which was “proof” of the accusations against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Guardian further reported that after Johnson’s phone call with Zarif a number of Iranian newspapers had published accounts of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s story and continued to, according to Ratcliffe, repeat “the earlier mistakes – quoting the foreign secretary as saying she was in fact working in Iran”.
Ratcliffe claimed to the newspaper that Zarif, in Iranian media reports, had asked the the judiciary for Nazanin’s release.
IRGC Zaghari-Ratcliffe seen in a news item which referred to comments made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as being a ‘confession’
Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who has been campaigning for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release said on Twitter that Boris’ “assurances” had clearly been “ignored” and further stated that his mistakes were not “funny”.
Stella Creasy called the situation “sickening” and blamed Johnson for creating a “life and death” situation for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Labour MP lambasted Prime Minister Theresa May for not making Johnson apologise for his error, but added: “A decent man would without asking.”
There were also several calls for Johnson to resign.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Johnson has agreed to meet with Ratcliffe in the “next few weeks”.
Ratcliffe has indicated that he wants to travel to Iran with the foreign secretary to visit his wife in prison for the first time, but was unsure if his request would be accepted by the Foreign Office.
Earlier he complained that he had not been able to meet the foreign secretary since the ordeal began.
Ratcliffe earlier this week explained to HuffPost UK that his wife now faces a charge of propaganda against the regime and is being tried on “exactly the same evidence” that was used in her trail in August 2016.
He said the latest charge against his wife would make her a “repeat offender” and did not make sense. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was initially arrested in April 2016 as she was about to board a plane back to the UK from Iran. Her daughter is now living with her grandparents in the country.
“This is as illegal under Iranian law as it is in the UK. However, she is now threatened that her additional sentence will be doubled, since a repeat trial means she is now classed as a ‘repeat offender’,” Ratcliffe explained.
He added that the Iranian judiciary is “making it up as it goes along… but it is not trying to pretend a proper legal process is happening. It is political.”
Appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Johnson said: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.
“(Neither) Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her family has been informed about what crime she has actually committed. And that I find extraordinary, incredible.”
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