Boris Johnson to meet husband of Briton held in Iran over diplomatic protection
Richard Ratcliffe said the Foreign Secretary was now “personally engaged” in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.
Boris Johnson is to meet the husband of jailed British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of her being offered “diplomatic protection” as part of Government efforts to secure her return from Iran.
Downing Street confirmed that the Foreign Office is looking into the possible use of the status after Richard Ratcliffe spoke with the Foreign Secretary by phone at the weekend.
It is thought that legal advice will have to be taken before determining whether the status – which would raise Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight from a consular case to a formal dispute between the two countries – is the best method for speeding her release.
Mr Johnson returned from Brussels to answer an urgent question on the case in the House of Commons, amid continuing concern that his suggestion to a parliamentary committee that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran has exposed her to the threat of the doubling of her five-year jail sentence.
Mr Johnson came under fire in the Commons over his suggestion that his comments may have been “misinterpreted” or taken out of context, with his Labour shadow Emily Thornberry telling him they were simply inaccurate.
“It is not good enough,” said Ms Thornberry. “If it is a matter of pride that the Foreign Secretary is refusing to admit simply that he has made a mistake, I feel bound to say to him that his pride matters not one ounce compared to Nazanin’s freedom.”
In response, the Foreign Secretary made his fullest apology yet, telling MPs: “Of course I apologise for the distress and suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the Government believe, and I believe, that she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday.
“I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested last year on a visit to her parents in Iran, and was handed a five-year sentence on spying allegations.
Her husband, who says his wife is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, has appealed to be allowed to join Mr Johnson on a trip to Iran planned by the end of the year, and to visit her in jail with the Foreign Secretary.
Discussing Iran deal, Middle East developments, and agreeing new sanctions regime on Venezuela, in Brussels with EU foreign ministers today pic.twitter.com/bo6yZ7IQCY— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 13, 2017
Mr Johnson told MPs the case had “cast a shadow” over Britain’s relationship with Tehran and said he would use his visit to drive home the strength of public and parliamentary feeling about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight.
Mr Ratcliffe declined to join calls for Mr Johnson to resign over his gaffe, which was seized on by Iranian judicial authorities as an admission of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s guilt.
But he urged the Foreign Office to ensure that all ministers know that the Government position is that his wife was on holiday at the time of her arrest, after Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a TV interview that he did not know what she was doing in Iran.
Astonishing that two of the leading Brexiteers, Boris and Gove, can’t get the facts straight on my constituent Nazanin’s case. Not up to the job.— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) November 12, 2017
Diplomatic protection could save my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's life. I just asked the Foreign Secretary to work to protect her - WATCH: https://t.co/ODE0PwE3Rp #FreeNazanin pic.twitter.com/xuiG21Ze2V— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) November 13, 2017
Mr Ratcliffe said it would not be helpful for the Foreign Secretary to resign over his handling of the case.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “I don’t think it’s helpful also in terms of how that looks in Iran for me to be looking like I’m playing politics. It’s very important that the Iranians can see that this is just a family who are battling to bring Nazanin home, and not get the sort of sense that we are some sort of great Machiavellian power. We are not.”
Urging Iran once more to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds, Mr Johnson told MPs: “The House should bear in mind that Iran’s regime and no-one else has chosen to separate this mother from her infant daughter for reasons that even they find it difficult to explain or describe.
“I shall travel to Iran myself later this year to review the full state of our bilateral relations and to drive home the strength of feeling in this House and the country at large about the plight of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other consular cases.”
Despite the threat of a further jail term made by an Iranian court days after Mr Johnson’s gaffe, the Foreign Secretary told MPs there was no evidence she had faced any additional charges or penalties since her initial sentencing in September last year.