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Hunt: Keep Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case out of Tory leadership battle

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he did not want the sensitive case to become a ‘brickbat’ with rivals.

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Richard Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has refused to say whether Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release from an Iranian jail would become less likely if Boris Johnson became prime minister.

Mr Hunt said he did not want her case to become a “brickbat in a Conservative leadership campaign” following criticism of Mr Johnson’s handling of the situation while he was in the Foreign Office.

The husband of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has insisted that comments made by Mr Johnson when he was foreign secretary “enabled a propaganda campaign” against her by Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe directly contradicted claims by Mr Johnson in the Tory leadership TV debate that his remarks as foreign secretary had no bearing on the fate of the mother-of-one, who is in prison in Iran on spying charges.

Mr Johnson was forced to apologise in 2017 after wrongly stating to a House of Commons committee that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran to teach journalists.

Mr Hunt, who as Foreign Secretary has been to Iran and raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, insisted that whoever became prime minister would do “everything they can” to get her home

Mr Johnson won the third round of voting in the Tory leadership race on Wednesday, with Mr Hunt in second place.

Asked on LBC Radio if Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release would be less likely if Mr Johnson became prime minister, Mr Hunt said: “I don’t want to answer that question because I think the worst possible thing in Nazanin’s situation is if it became a brickbat in a Conservative leadership campaign.

“I know that Boris wants to get Nazanin home every bit as much as I do, and I know that whoever is prime minister will do everything they can to get her home.”

Mr Hunt said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case should not be linked by Tehran to other disputes with the UK, including a demand for repayment of hundreds of millions in relation to a 1970s arms deal.

The Foreign Secretary said: “My message to Iran through all of this has been ‘of course we can have disagreements as a country’ and we profoundly disagree with some of the things Iran is doing right at the moment.

“But don’t make an innocent woman suffer for this, don’t take someone hostage – who is absolutely nothing to do with this – and destroy her life because of a disagreement you might have with the UK.”

Earlier, Mr Ratcliffe had insisted that Mr Johnson’s comments as foreign secretary had an impact on his wife’s case.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Of course they had consequences.

“The main difference they had was, obviously, they enabled a propaganda campaign that was run against Nazanin.”

He added: “It was used to justify a second court case.

“And has been used to discredit her ever since.”

The issue came up in the Tory leadership TV debate on Tuesday when Mr Johnson was asked if he worries his words might do “more harm than good” in relation to his comments about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

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Boris Johnson claimed in the TV debate that his words did not have consequences in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case (Jeff Overs/BBC)

During the BBC debate Mr Johnson said: “Well actually in that case it didn’t, I think, make any difference.

“But if you point the finger at the UK, all you are doing is exculpating those who are truly responsible which is the Iranian revolutionary guard and that is reality, and people should realise what this regime is up to, and that is where the responsibility lies.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on April 3 2016 at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran as she prepared to board a plane back to the UK after visiting relatives and is serving a five-year sentence in the notorious Evin Prison.

She and her husband have a five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who has not been allowed to leave Iran following her mother’s arrest and is living with her grandparents.

Tensions with Iran have been heightened over an attack against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe began a third hunger strike on Saturday, while her husband has set up camp outside the Iranian Embassy in London, vowing not to eat for the duration of her protest.

PA

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