- Boris Johnson will write to his Iranian counterpart as a British woman in Iran faces a five-year jail sentence as a result of a false claim he 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. An Iranian court used Johnson’s words as evidence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry calls on Johnson to resign.
LONDON – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will today phone his Iranian counterpart in an attempt to rectify a blunder which could result in a British woman having her prison sentence in Iran doubled.
Brit 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.
However, last week Johnson told a parliamentary committee that she had been detained in Iran because she had been “simply teaching people journalism.”
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 released on Monday evening, Johnson refused to retract his remarks despite both Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband and employers claiming they were false but vowed to pressure Iran into releasing her.
“Last week’s remarks by the Foreign Secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” the Foreign Office statement said.
“While criticising the case against Mrs 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.
“The UK will continue to do it all can to secure the release on humanitarian grounds and the Foreign Secretary will be calling the Iranian Foreign Minister to raise again his serious concerns about this case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented.”
Johnson told to stand down
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.”
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.”
EXCL: Emily Thornberry writes to Boris Johnson demanding her resign if Nazanin Ratcliffe’s jail term is increased due to his gaffe. pic.twitter.com/KNI5JEpibx
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) November 6, 2017
— Sir Paul Jenkins (@sirpauljenkins) November 6, 2017
Thomson Reuters Foundation chief executive, Monique Villa, urged the Conservative minister to “correct the serious mistake” in claims he made to MPs last week.
“I once again urge Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to immediately correct the serious mistake he made at the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament,” Villa said in a statement.
“On 1 November he said that Nazanin ‘was training journalists’ in Iran. I have immediately clarified that this is not right as 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.
“Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazani has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into Court on Saturday 4 November and accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime’.”