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Face to face: Foreign secretary Boris Johnson finally meets Nazanin’s distraught husband

Foreign Office urged to apply diplomatic protection to West Hampstead woman held on spy charges in Iran

15 November, 2017 — By Richard Osley

MP Tulip Siddiq joins Richard Ratcliffe in a meeting with Boris Johnson

BLUNDERING foreign secretary Boris Johnson finally faced the husband of a West Hampstead woman locked up in Iran today (Wednesday). This was the moment Richard Ratcliffe, alongside Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, sat down at the Foreign Office and called on Mr Johnson to help secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

It came 10 days after Mr Johnson left Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s supporters distraught by telling a parliamentary committee that she had been “training journalists” in Tehran, comments which sparked fears they would lead to Iranian justices extending her five- year sentence.

The 38-year-old is accused of spying, but her family say she was simply returning from a family holiday when she was arrested last year. The UK government also agrees she was on a holiday, although Michael Gove became the second cabinet member to be accused of making life more difficult for the campaign to free her by telling Andrew Marr’s BBC show on Sunday that he did not know why she was there.

The case is now getting global news coverage, and Mr Johnson – facing calls to step down from his post – has since admitted his words could have been clearer. He said he had been describing what Iran had been accusing her of doing. Mr Ratcliffe said yesterday’s meeting had been “positive and constructive”, although Mr Johnson could not confirm whether he would be able to take him on an upcoming visit to Iran.

In happier times, Richard Ratcliffe with his wife Nazanin

“Moving forward is the right thing,” Mr Ratcliffe said, in relation to Mr Johnson’s comments. The foreign secretary has been urged to visit Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe in prison, where there have been concerns for her mental and physical state. The couple’s three-year-old daughter, Gabriella, is living with her grandparents in Iran. Mr Ratcliffe has not seen her since his wife was detained, having been denied a visa.

“I absolutely believe her that she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” he said. “It’s important I don’t exaggerate anything in the media and I’m not melodramatic, but she is in a difficult place. The attention of the world would move the Iranian government to find a way to solve this.”

Supporters also suggest that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was working for Thomson Reuters Foundation, should be granted diplomatic protection by the Foreign Office, a move which would escalate the case. News agencies in Iran, however, said the authorities did not see this as an option as she has dual British-Iranian nationality. She has also been told her appeals have failed.

“Diplomatic protection is in essence when a state like Britain decides that Nazanin was being treated badly because she is British and she is entitled to be protected as an extension of the British state,” said Mr Ratcliffe. “It is not unprecedented, but it is a big step. I said: ‘I’m not a lawyer. I think it would help. I think it would send an important signal that the way Nazanin is being treated is unacceptable.’ “I appreciate it’s an escalation, but I think it’s important that, where softly-softly doesn’t work, where it has been escalated by the past couple of weeks’ events and the foreign secretary’s words, I think it is appropriate.”

Ms Siddiq said: “It has taken 19 months to get a sit down meeting for Richard with a Foreign Secretary and so the very fact that it went ahead was encouraging. We heard a lot of positive noises but now we will hold him and his department to account when they promise that ‘no stone will be left unturned’ to bring her back.” She added that she would make sure he remembered the “millions of people who are following her case and waiting for her to come home to West Hampstead.”

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