Hopes that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released as part of a prisoner swap appear to have been dashed after Iran backed away from reports of a possible deal.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had appeared to suggest the British-Iranian mother, who was jailed in 2016 after being convicted of spying, which she denies, could be freed in exchange for an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition request.
But in a later interview he said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a “separate case” from those prisoners held at the behest of the Americans.
“The offer that I made was people who have been in prison either in the United States or elsewhere in the world on American request. But the Iranian-British woman is a separate case,” he told Reuters.
Downing Street confirmed that the government had not received any approach from Tehran about a possible prisoner exchange.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “unfortunate” that the Iranian foreign minister appeared to have “somewhat retracted” his offer.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent,” he added. “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is the fact that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it in leverage.
“The thing that we mustn’t forget in the Nazanin case is that there are other Brits or dual nationals in exactly the same situation as Nazanin, whose families have chosen not to go public with their names.”
Mr Hunt praised Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe for his courage in making sure “the whole world knows about this Iranian practice.”
He added: “It’s not just the Brits – it happens to dual nationals from many western states. I hope that the outcome of this will not just be freedom for Nazanin but actually the ending of this practice by Iran, which is absolutely vile.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on 3 April 2016, when trying to return to London after a holiday with her then 21-month-old daughter, Gabriella.
She was later held in solitary confinement for eight months, before being handed a five-year jail sentence on espionage charges, which she denies.
Mr Zarif had previously appeared to link the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe with that of the woman held in Australia.
“I feel sorry for them and I have done my best to help, but nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison whose child is growing up outside prison with mother in prison,” he said.
“So, what can I do as a foreign minister? And I put this offer on the table publicly now. Exchange them.”
Theresa May’s official spokesman said it was his understanding that the Iranian foreign minister had clarified his initial comments.
“The treatment of all British-Iranians detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is a priority for the government,” the spokesman added.
“We remain concerned about all of our consular cases and raise them at every level and every opportunity.”
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