There are hopeful signs from Iran regarding the possible release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 37-year-old British-Iranian woman who is currently serving a five-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison for allegedly “plotting to topple the Iranian regime.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked as a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson-Reuters news agency’s charitable arm. At the time of her arrest in April 2016, she was on holiday in Tehran visiting her family.
Nazanin was due in court on December 11 to face extra charges of spreading propaganda, which could have added 16 years to her sentence. But the hearing was canceled by Musa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, who said that no proceedings were to be held unless new charges were filed against her. The decision to delay the court case coincided with the UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s visit to Tehran.
Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News that the delay in her court proceeding was a “good sign” and that he was “very optimistic.” He added: “My hope today is, as Nazanin once wrote: ‘Freedom feels one day closer, that Christmas dream remains.’”
Meanwhile, during his weekly press conference on December 12, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi, told reporters that Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Tehran had been coordinated with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif well in advance to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries.
Qasemi added: “Mrs. Ratcliffe’s situation was also discussed. She is considered an Iranian national, even though she holds dual citizenship. She has been convicted by our judicial system, and will have to serve her sentence.” Qasemi, however, said that he would discuss the humanitarian aspects of the case with Judiciary officials. “The outcome of this case will ultimately be decided by the Judiciary,” Qasemi asserted.
Qasemi told reporters that the British delegation had brought up the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe for discussion. He said that the separation of powers, the fact that Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationality and the independence of the Judiciary had been explained by the Iranian officials to their British guests. Qasemi added: “The Foreign Ministry is willing to discuss the matter further. However, it cannot interfere with the work of the Judiciary. We observe the same separation of powers in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has said that he held constructive and positive discussions about the plight of Zaghari-Ratcliffe with President Hassan Rouhani during their meeting. He has described his visit to Iran as “worthwhile”. The UK Foreign Office has also issued an statement saying: “It is clear that both sides want to keep up the momentum to resolve the difficult issues in the bilateral relationship and maintain the nuclear deal.”
There has not been any news about the payment of £400 million that UK owes Iran. Boris Johnson also held a 45-minute meeting with Nazanin’s family in Tehran, The Daily Telegraph has reported.
The two sides also discussed the plight of other British-Iranians who are currently being held in Iran, including Kamal Foroughi who has been in Tehran’s Evin Prison for the past seven years on espionage charges. Foroughi, who is 77 years old, was working as a consultant for the Malaysian national oil and gas company Petronas at the time of his arrest in 2011.