British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran 'panicked' upon hearing of Boris Johnson's resignation

Husband tells The Independent that although ex-foreign secretary's gaffe meant 'things went wrong in a very public way', it also made Mr Johnson determined to 'leave no stone unturned' to secure charity worker's release  

One Night of Freedom: comedy in solidarity with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

While some of his officials reportedly celebrated his departure with champagne, Boris Johnson’s resignation as foreign secretary has caused upset in one, seemingly unlikely quarter.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother jailed in Iran, is said to have “panicked” when she heard Mr Johnson was leaving his job – despite him being the one whose gaffe last year was seized upon by the Iranians to bolster their claims that she was a spy.

The 39-year-old’s anxiety, however, was less to do with the loss of Mr Johnson’s diplomatic skills, and more about her fear that his successor as foreign secretary would know nothing about her case, effectively returning her to the “back of the queue” in terms of British priorities.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told The Independent that his wife was shocked when he relayed the news of Mr Johnson’s resignation.

“I think ‘panicked’ is a fair description,” said Mr Ratcliffe. “It’s disorientation, the worry that we might just have taken three steps back.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

“She told me: ‘I can’t believe it – what is going on in that country? I am so worried that the new foreign secretary will need to spend months first reading the file, and then wanting to build relations [Iran], and then making new visits, while I am left waiting.’”

Mr Ratcliffe also revealed that he had written an email to Mr Johnson thanking him for his efforts on his wife’s behalf.

He explained that the damage caused by Mr Johnson’s gaffe was countered by his resulting desire to rectify the situation and to secure Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “There were things that went wrong in a very public way, but there was also an attempt to solve the issues, a personal commitment to leave no stone unturned.”

Mr Johnson had faced calls to resign in November when he told a committee of MPs that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching journalists in Iran, when in fact she had gone there on holiday and is a charity worker who claims to have never taught journalism in her life.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was pushed close to a nervous breakdown as she sat in a Tehran prison and watched Iranian TV news bulletins repeatedly use Mr Johnson’s remarks to portray her as a spy.

But eventually, 12 days after making his remarks, Mr Johnson apologised. He then promised to “leave no stone unturned” to secure Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, raising her case when he visited Iran in December.

Boris Johnson and Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, with interpreter (centre), during their meeting in Tehran

Hopes were initially raised that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe might be freed around Christmas time.

In May, however, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court to face what her supporters see as an attempt to reconvict her on the same “resurrected” material that was used to convict her in 2016.

Hinting that his wife’s continued detention may now be related to Iranian demands for Britain to pay money in a legal dispute about a 1970s arms deal, Mr Ratcliffe said: “Boris Johnson’s role as foreign secretary ends and my wife is still in prison. That is a fundamental frustration.

“But he tried quite hard. Things got blocked, but I don’t feel it was him blocking them.

“Our fight was not with the foreign secretary. The causes of Nazanin’s suffering and more recent revival of her court case all come from a different place.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter Gabriella has remained in Iran so that mother and child can continue to see each other during prison visits

Mr Ratcliffe said that Mr Johnson’s departure did come days before he was due to rule on whether to grant Nazanin “diplomatic protection”, effectively elevating her case beyond the level of a consular assistance matter and making it a formal legal dispute between Britain and Iran.

That decision will now be put back as it is considered anew by Mr Johnson’s successor, Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Ratcliffe, however, said his wife had eventually been somewhat reassured to learn that Mr Hunt was the new foreign secretary.

He already has knowledge of her case because Mr Ratcliffe’s uncle and brother live in his constituency and have previously raised the matter with him in his capacity as their local MP.

Mr Ratcliffe said he would ask to meet Mr Hunt when he sees Foreign Office staff for a routine progress update on Friday.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “Part of wanting to meet Mr Hunt is to be able to gauge how important Nazanin is for him.”

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