Boris Johnson wasn't wrong about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – we all just misinterpreted what he said

It's similar to the time he said that if we left Europe we’d save £350m a week for the NHS, and it was cruelly interpreted as meaning if we left Europe we’d save £350m a week for the NHS

Mark Steel
Thursday 16 November 2017 19:06 GMT
Johnson and Gove don’t have time to read anything about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case, as they’ve got to get hundreds of other things wrong as well
Johnson and Gove don’t have time to read anything about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case, as they’ve got to get hundreds of other things wrong as well (Getty)

This is encouraging for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed in Iran for five years while on holiday visiting her parents. Boris Johnson has declared he’ll “leave no stone unturned” to get that sentence removed.

He’s made an excellent start by announcing she was in Iran to teach journalism, as the Iranian courts claimed, rather than on holiday as she clearly was. So the Iranian government said they’d increase her sentence, and now he can proudly inform her: “They have indeed scrapped the five-year sentence, as I promised, and somewhat changed it to ten. But there we are, promise is a promise, can’t have everything and all that, inter alia, ipso facto, a Mullah is a Mullah, keep the pecker up.”

It proves Boris is the man you’d want to defend you if you were wrongly arrested. He’d tell the judge: “In answer to the charge that my client committed the crime, I would answer indeed he did. And if I may add a supplementary er, er, note, your honour, he carried out rather a cornucopia of other ones as well, the cheeky imp. Whoops I’ve done it again, still, modus vivendi, as it were.”

Boris Johnson tries to dodge reporter's question on jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Then Michael Gove went on television to defend Boris, saying he too had no idea what Nazanin was doing in Iran. And that’s fair because there are no clues as to what she was doing, apart that it’s in every press release from the family, and repeated on every lobby and in every leaflet and in every interview, but Michael Gove and Boris Johnson don’t have time to read any of those as they’ve got to get hundreds of other things wrong as well.

Maybe it’s a party game and all the Cabinet will have a go. Philip Hammond will appear on The One Show and say: “I couldn’t be bothered to read a single thing regarding this case, but I am absolutely certain she was poisoning all the country’s fish. Apparently, she thinks the way their fins waggle is too Islamic.”

In any case, when you’re Foreign Secretary and you speak to a parliamentary committee, if you don’t know the answer it’s best to make stuff up. I’m the same when I don’t know an answer on Newsquiz on Radio 4.

So when they asked, “What do you know about this woman?”, he could have said that he didn’t have a clue, but it’s more fun to guess and splutter, “Ah hang on, wasn’t she plotting to steal the Ayatollah?”

And when you’re busy, it’s so easy to get these activities mixed up. We’ve all set off to visit our parents and accidentally found ourselves teaching journalism. Eventually you get a call: “Where are you, dear? Your dinner’s gone cold.” So you apologise to your students and send them home.

In Boris’s case it must be especially confusing, because if he was teaching journalism to students he’d just say, “Get yourself to Eton, become a pal of Rupert Murdoch, nab a column for a couple of hundred grand and make stuff up.” This would leave plenty of time to visit his parents as well.

So the Foreign Secretary was asked to apologise, but refused because, he said, his “words were taken out of context”. And when you look closely you can see what he means. Because it’s claimed Boris Johnson said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran simply teaching journalism, but what he actually said was: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism.”

You see? How can anyone interpret that as meaning she was simply teaching journalism?

Boris Johnson went on to point out how ridiculous it is to claim his comments had any impact on the Iranian judiciary’s threat to increase her sentence. The proof is the statement by the Iranian judiciary, that they were threatening to increase her sentence because “Boris Johnson’s statement shows that Nazanin had visited the country for anything but a holiday”.

Once again, they only mentioned him once, so what’s the fuss?

We should all try this from now on. Anyone who fails an exam should say: “I didn’t get the answer wrong. When I wrote in my essay that Leonardo da Vinci was the King of England from 1837 to 1901, my words were taken out of context.”

In a trial, defendants should claim: “I wasn’t robbing a bank. The words you can hear me shouting, ‘Get on the floor you dogs, and hand me all your money and valuables or I’ll shoot you through the ear’, were taken entirely out of context.”

Boris Johnson is often the victim of this out-of-context behaviour. For example, his remarks that if we left Europe, we’d save £350m a week for the NHS, were cruelly interpreted as meaning if we left Europe, we’d save £350m a week for the NHS.

So this leaves Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, with a dilemma. The Foreign Secretary is the person who can most influence the Iranian authorities, but he seems to make things worse.

If he does go to Iran, he’ll probably do something hilarious such as ride into the court on a camel, shouting, “You should be able to hire these to get round Tehran, as I arranged somewhat for London with the bikes, and call them Boris camels, as it were. Oh well, curriculum vitae if you will.”

But he’s a thorough chap, which is why he’s started talking about this case only 19 months after she was jailed, and in that time he’s already learned everything there is to know about the case, except which way round is what the courts say happened, and what actually happened, because he’s leaving no stone unturned.

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