Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe: British woman's husband condemns Liam Fox's defence of Boris Johnson

Richard Ratcliffe accuses Liam Fox of being 'flippant' by dismissing a Boris Johnson gaffe that risks doubling his wife's Iranian prison sentence as just a 'slip of the tongue' 

Liam Fox says we shouldn't overreact after Boris Johnson's Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe gaffe

The husband of a charity worker jailed in Iran has condemned cabinet minister Liam Fox for suggesting a gaffe by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that might double his wife’s prison sentence was a mere “slip of the tongue”.

Richard Ratcliffe accused International Trade Secretary Dr Fox of being flippant about the error when it was now actively being exploited by the Iranian judiciary in an attempt to keep his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in jail for an extra five years.

He said that Mr Johnson’s bungled suggestion to the Foreign Affairs Committee that his wife had been teaching journalism in Iran, when in fact she was there on holiday and has never taught journalism in her life, was an error that needed urgent public correction.

For Dr Fox to tell the Today programme “We all make slips of the tongue” and “We’ve got to be very careful we’re not overreacting” was, Mr Ratcliffe said, “unfortunate”.

The 42-year-old accountant told The Independent: “That was a flippant statement.

“It is clear that the Iranian judiciary is using Boris Johnson’s error to build a case against Nazanin – let us not be too cavalier about the consequences.

“This is an error that urgently needs to be corrected, otherwise there is a real risk it will be used to add years to Nazanin’s jail sentence.”

Mr Ratcliffe said that while he welcomed Dr Fox’s acknowledgement that his charity worker wife was being held unfairly, Mr Johnson still needed to make a statement to Parliament as well as speaking privately to his Iranian counterpart.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “There is a limit to the Iranian foreign ministry’s power in this.

“As well as a private conversation, there needs to be a clear public statement of equal status to the initial error, so that things are done in a way that the Iranian judiciary has to acknowledge.”

He pointed out that on Saturday, the first Iranian working day after Mr Johnson’s erroneous remarks, his wife was taken before hardline judge Abolghassem Salavati, to be told there were new accusations against her, under a new charge of “spreading propaganda against the regime”

On the same day the website of the Iranian Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights published a story headlined: “UK confirms Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not in Iran for Holiday.”

The article claimed: “His [Boris Johnson’s] statement shows that Nazanin had visited the country for anything but a holiday. For months it was claimed that Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested.

“Mr Johnson's statement has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin, which has been strongly denied previously by both her family and Human Right activists.”

It is now feared the new charges may lead to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe having five years added to the five-year sentence that she is already serving for supposedly threatening Iranian national security.

Mr Ratcliffe has never wavered in saying his wife is innocent.

Ever since she was first arrested in April 2016, he has made it clear that his wife – a dual Iranian-British national - had simply gone to Iran to visit her parents and extended family for the country’s Nowruz new year celebration.

Mr Ratcliffe has also repeatedly explained that that his wife has never actually taught journalists at any point in her career.

Instead in her first graduate job, eight years ago, when she was an assistant at BBC Media Action, the corporation’s international development charity, she had just made travel arrangements for tutors on an international journalism course.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s current employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has also issued a statement confirming that the charity worker was not teaching journalists.

The foundation’s chief executive Monique Villa said: “Nazanin is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I urge Boris Johnson to immediately correct the serious mistake he made.”

Ms Villa has previously confirmed that the Thomson Reuters Foundation has no dealings with Iran whatsoever, and that in her job as a project co-ordinator Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had nothing to do with the country.

Mr Johnson’s remarks have led to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to call on him to resign if Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe ends up being given more jail time.

The Ratcliffes’ constituency MP Tulip Siddiq has also accused Mr Johnson of making “very deeply damaging comments” when as head of the Foreign Office “he should know the details of the case.”

She added: “Nazanin’s situation is a matter of life and death. If the Foreign Secretary won’t apologise for his remarks, then he must step aside for someone who will.”

Last week Mr Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC): “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.”

As the furore over his remarks deepened this week, the Foreign Office tried to claim Mr Johnson had merely been saying “he condemned the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that he believed Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity.”

It did, however, acknowledge that Mr Johnson could have been “clearer” in his remarks, and said the Foreign Secretary would be “updating” Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

The full Foreign Office statement read: “The Foreign Secretary called the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif this morning to discuss the case of Mrs Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe.

“He reiterated his anxiety about the continued suffering of Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe and her family, and hoped 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 last week at the 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 Mrs 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 FAC was that he condemned the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that he believed Iranian allegations that Mrs 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 Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds. He set out his intention to visit Iran before the end of the year to discuss the case further.

"Mr Zarif said that the developments in the case over the weekend were unrelated to the Foreign Secretary's remarks and that he remained committed to working with the Foreign Secretary to finding a resolution to the case on humanitarian grounds.

“The Foreign Secretary accepts his remarks to the Foreign Affairs Committee could have been clearer on this aspect. He intends to update the House this afternoon.”

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