- REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
- Boris Johnson admits he ‘could have been clearer’ about Brit Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who faces an extended prison sentence in Iran because of a claim the foreign secretary’s made. The foreign secretary refuses to retract his claim that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism in Iran, despite her husband and employers saying it was false. Johnson plans to visit Iran later this year to discuss the case further.
LONDON – Boris Johnson has said that he “could have been clearer” in remarks to MPs about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe but denies making a false claim about why she was in Iran when arrested last year.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Secretary said on Tuesday that Johnson accepted he could have been clearer about Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case when he spoke about her case in front of a parliamentary committee last week.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year prison sentence in Iran for reasons not yet known after she was arrested in Tehran airport in April 2016. She repeatedly insisted that she was on holiday in Iran when arrested.
Johnson claimed last week that Brit Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to teach journalism when she was arrested last year. This claim has been rejected as false by Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband, and her employers.
Johnson’s words were used as evidence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe when she appeared in an Iranian court on Saturday. She now faces another five years being added to her prison sentence.
In a statement, a foreign office spokesperson said Johnson accepted his claims ought to have been “clearer” but described the accusation that he had made a false claim as “absolutely not true.”
“The Foreign Secretary called the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif this morning to discuss the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He reiterated his anxiety about the continued suffering of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family and hoped that a solution would be reached soon. The foreign secretary expressed concern at the suggestion from the Iranian judiciary high council for human rights that his remarks at last week’s foreign affairs committee ‘shed new light’ on the case. The foreign secretary said this was absolutely not true.
“It was clear as it always had been that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran on holiday when arrested. The foreign secretary made clear that the point he had been seeking to make in his evidence to the foreign affairs select committee was that he condemned the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime. Not that he believed Iranian allegations that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity. The foreign secretary concluded by emphasising that his remarks could form no justifiable basis for further action in this case and urged the Iranian authorities to release miss Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Radcliffe, has criticised Johnson’s “misstep” and has called on the foreign secretary to correct his remarks to MPs in Parliament.
“There is a direct link between Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday and Judge Salavati, the harshest judge that you can find hearing her case on Saturday, where she is now facing a double sentence,” Ratcliffe told the Times.
“[His] misstep saying she was training journalists not that she was on holiday – contradicting what we have said all along – is being used for propaganda purposes to justify holding her.”
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May told Business Insider that the foreign office intends to speak to the family later today but did not say whether Johnson would do this himself.
Johnson has come in for a barrage of criticism from across the political spectrum for the blunder.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, has written to Johnson telling him to resign if Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison sentence is increased as a result of his claim.
While Johnson’s blunder was not a “deliberate error,” Thornberry writes, “it nevertheless reveals a fundamental lack of interest or concern for the details of Nazanin’s case and the consequences of your words.”
The Foreign Office spokesperson said that Johnson plans to visit Iran later this year to discuss the issue further.