Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appears in court on new propaganda charges

14 March 2021, 09:53 | Updated: 14 March 2021, 22:43

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court on new charges on Sunday, having been held in Iran since 2016.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court on new charges on Sunday, having been held in Iran since 2016. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has appeared in court in Iran on new charges of "propaganda against Iran".

The dual national has been held in Iran since 2016, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the country's government.

Her new charges come just a week after the 42-year-old was released from house arrest following her detention in the Middle East nation.

The UK government has described the case as "wholly arbitrary", accusing Iran of putting Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe through "a cruel and inhumane ordeal".

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency where Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family live, confirmed that she had appeared in court and was "tried on new charges of 'propaganda against Iran'".

"No verdict was given but it should be delivered within a week," she added.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has ankle tag removed following five-year detention in Iran

In a statement, Ms Siddiq added: "Nazanin is relieved that the court process is over and she is free of her ankle tag, but the anxiety of waiting for a verdict will just add to her ongoing mental torture.

"Nazanin is once again stuck in limbo and spending yet another Mother's Day away from her husband and daughter. The Prime Minister claims to be doing everything he can for Nazanin, but he wasn't even capable of ensuring that British officials attended her court hearing to ensure a fair trial.

"This is a basic consular right and the very least that should be secured for a British citizen with diplomatic protection like Nazanin.

Read more: Boris Johnson demands immediate release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

"I understand that Nazanin was told that the 20-minute court hearing she faced this morning would be her last, with the verdict expected within seven working days.

"I'm glad that this process isn't being drawn out, but I'm deeply concerned about the possible outcome and that the Iranian authorities will continue to hold Nazanin hostage as leverage in ongoing disputes.

"Now is the time to bring Nazanin home to the UK, and our government has a responsibility to pull every possible lever to make that happen."

Tulip Siddiq MP has criticised Boris Johnson's handling of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's imprisonment in Iran.
Tulip Siddiq MP has criticised Boris Johnson's handling of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's imprisonment in Iran. Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Media

Her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, told the media “Zaghari-Ratcliffe was fine and calm at the court session", which was held "at branch 15 of the Revolutionary court"

“The trial was held in a calm atmosphere. The final defence was taken. Legally, the court should announce the verdict in a week, but it is up to the judge. I am very hopeful that she will be acquitted," he added.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK government will "continue to do all we can to support" Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, accusing the Iranian government of deciding to "deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal".

"It is unacceptable and unjustifiable that Iran has chosen to continue with this second, wholly arbitrary, case against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe," he added.

"Nazanin must be allowed to return to her family in the UK without further delay."

On Monday, Nazanin's husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella attended a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London.
On Monday, Nazanin's husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella attended a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London. Picture: PA

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was originally arrested at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport while taking her young daughter Gabriella to see her parents in April 2016.

The charity worker, who was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time of her arrest, strongly denies all the charges and rights groups say she was jailed with no evidence and her trial was unfair.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'a pawn' in diplomatic row over arms payments, experts claim

The UK has been locked in a high-profile diplomatic tussle over Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention and the UK Government has afforded her diplomatic protection, arguing she is innocent and that her treatment by Iran failed to meet obligations under international law.

Ms Zaghari Ratcliffe has been used as a political pawn, according to Nobel Laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, and civil rights groups like Amnesty International say her trial was unfair and she was jailed with no evidence.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanded the "immediate release" of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals detained in Iran and demanded their immediate release.

"He said that while the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ankle monitor was welcome, her continued confinement remains completely unacceptable and she must be allowed to return to her family in the UK."

Ahead of the court date on Sunday, human rights group Redress commissioned a detailed medical assessment of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which unveiled the shocking impact of the experience on her mental health.

The report says Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive stress disorder because of "extremely stressful, traumatising experiences in the prisons of Iran" and the uncertainty surrounding her immediate future.

It also says at the beginning of her sentence in 2016 that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was interrogated for hours on end, often blindfolded, while in solitary confinement.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe needs 'urgent mental health treatment,' charity warns

Human rights group Redress say Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been forced to endure hearing a prison guard's conversations with her daughter (pictured).
Human rights group Redress say Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been forced to endure hearing a prison guard's conversations with her daughter (pictured). Picture: PA

Redress says the report also shows she has suffered hair loss, developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) about washing and was repeatedly forced to endure hearing a female prison guard's conversations with her daughter, exacerbating her distress at being separated from her own child.

The charity has called on the Government to recognise her as a victim of torture and has sent the Foreign Secretary the 77-page report it commissioned from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

The charity said it based its categorisation of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a torture victim on UN standards, and said the assessment's findings were "highly consistent" with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's allegations of torture and ill-treatment.