Britain's Boris Johnson to visit Iran in a bid to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Britain's Boris Johnson to visit Iran in a bid to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe
3 min read
08 December, 2017
Boris Johnson will be visiting Iran to discuss the case of imprisoned British citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, while both countries refute their financial deal is related to the case.
The trip will be Johnson's first visit to Iran [Getty]
The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is set to visit Iran this weekend where he will press for the release of a British-Iranian woman held in a Tehran prison.

Johnson, who is currently in Oman for the start of a three-day visit which will take him to the United Arab Emirates and Iran, will meet with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif for two days' of talks including seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The British-Iranian was working at the Thomson Reuters Foundation – the media organisation's philanthropic arm – at the time of her arrest. She was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 for taking part in mass anti-regime protests in 2009 – a charge she denies.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is due to face fresh propaganda charges in court on Sunday, which could land her several more years in jail.

The case has become highly politicised, especially after a careless blunder by Johnson last month in which he stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran. This has been used by the Iranian authorities to help justify the new charges and may contribute to her potentially lengthened sentence.

"The government remains very concerned about all our dual nationals detained in Iran and has been doing everything it can to make progress on their cases, while approaching them in a way that we judge is in their best interests," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"The foreign secretary will urge the Iranians to release dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so."

Read also: Boris Johnson's blunder on Nazanin is now one too many
Crucial time

The trip will be Johnson's first visit to Iran, the first of a British foreign secretary since 2015 and only the third since 2003. Johnson is also expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal and trade between the two countries. 

Oman is widely known as the West's interlocutor when dealing with Iran. 

"This visit comes at a crucial time for the Gulf region and provides an opportunity to discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen, the future of the Iran nuclear deal and the current volatility in the Middle East," the spokesman said. "We expect talks to cover a wide range of issues from the bilateral relationship to regional security." 

The trip comes amid news that the two countries are striking a financial deal reportedly related to a pre-1979 arms deal.

Fresh information reveals that London is considering repaying Tehran around £400 million related to a pre-1979 arms deal. Both sides insist that the payment is not related to the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, however America made a similar payment which saw the release of four US citizens in 2016.

'Mockery of justice'

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3 2016 after visiting family. She was travelling with her daughter Gabriella, now three years old, who remains in Tehran with her grandmother. 

Thomson Reuters chief executive Monique Villa called the sentence "a mockery of justice," and said the new charges risked a further 16-year prison sentence.  

A renewed urgency accompanies Johnson's visit, as Zaghari-Ratcliffe is reportedly "close to a mental breakdown", after suffering panic attacks, insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe said Johnson's visit to Iran is likely to give his wife hope.

"Nazanin has a new court case on Sunday, so it is really, really great that he is able to be there, just to press how important it is that she could be home with her family," he told Sky News television.

"Him being there can only make things better. It makes a clear statement that he is concerned about Nazanin, he is concerned about the other cases.

"I am sure the fact that the foreign secretary is going will have given her some hope."