Lawyers

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in court in Tehran on second set of charges

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national detained since 2016, faced a second set of charges on Sunday in Iran’s revolutionary court in Tehran.

She was freed from house arrest last Sunday at the end of a five-year prison sentence, but because she had been summoned to court again on the other charge, she has not been allowed to leave the country to return to her family.

Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told the Iranian Emtedad website he was very hopeful she would be acquitted, but there was no immediate word from the Iranian judiciary as to the next steps.

“Her trial was held at branch 15 of the revolutionary court. Her charge is propaganda against the system,” Kermani was quoted as saying by the website.

“The trial was held in a calm atmosphere with the presence of my client … The legal defence was made and the final defence was taken … I am very hopeful that she will be acquitted.”

He told Reuters: “Legally, the court should announce the verdict in a week but it is up to the judge.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent nearly nine months of her four years in jail in solitary confinement and spent the last year fitted with an ankle tag at her parents’ home in Tehran. Her psychological condition is said to be very fragile. The British embassy was not represented in court since Iran does not recognise dual citizenship status.

Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, said he feared no decision would be made before the end of the Iranian new year in April and called on the UK Foreign Office to abandon its reluctance to describe her as a state hostage.

“Nazanin was allowed at the hearing to make a personal statement, where she clarified that she did not accept the accusation and pointed out that all the accusations and evidence put forward had been part of her trial in 2016,” he said.

“While the charges are not particularly relevant, since the point of reviving this case again last week was simply to hold Nazanin for leverage as negotiations with the UK, it is worth clarifying that no new accusations were made today.”

He said the UK choosing not to publicly acknowledge she was a state hostage – held by Tehran for leverage over the British government – was not helping his wife. “It is a fallacy that euphemism protects victims,” he said. “It just protects perpetrators. It does not protect Nazanin, or other British dual nationals in jail.”

Timeline

Imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran

Show

Arrest in Tehran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is arrested at Imam Khomeini airport as she is trying to return to Britain after a holiday visiting family with her daughter, Gabriella.

Release campaign begins

Sentenced

Hunger strike

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health deteriorates after she spends several days on hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment.

Appeal fails

Boris Johnson intervenes

Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, tells a parliamentary select committee “When we look at what [she] was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism”. Four days after his comments, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is returned to court, where his statement is cited in evidence against her. Her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, deny that she has ever trained journalists, and her family maintain she was in Iran on holiday. Johnson is eventually forced to apologise for the “distress and anguish” his comments cause the family.

Health concerns

Her husband reveals that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has fears for her health after lumps had been found in her breasts that required an ultrasound scan, and that she was now “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.

Hunt meets husband

Temporary release

She is granted a temporary three-day release from prison.

Hunger strike

Diplomatic protection

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, takes the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection – a move that raises her case from a consular matter to the level of a dispute between the two states.

Travel warning

The UK upgrades its travel advice to British-Iranian dual nationals, for the first time advising against all travel to Iran. The advice also urges Iranian nationals living in the UK to exercise caution if they decide to travel to Iran.

Hunger strike in London

Richard Ratcliffe joins his wife in a new hunger strike campaign. He fasts outside the Iranian embassy in London as she begins a third hunger strike protest in prison.

Hunger strike ends

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ends her hunger strike by eating some breakfast. Her husband also ends his strike outside the embassy.

Moved to mental health ward

According to her husband, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was moved from Evin prison to the mental ward of Imam Khomeini hospital, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have prevented relatives from contacting her.

Daughter returns to London

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five year old daughter Gabriella, who has lived with her grandparents in Tehran and regularly visited her mother in jail over the last three years, returns to London in order to start school.

Temporary release

Amid the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, she is temporarily released from prison, but will be required to wear an ankle brace and not move more than 300 metres from her parents’ home.

New charges

Iranian state media reports that she will appear in court to face new and unspecified charges. In the end, a weekend court appearance on a new charge of waging propaganda against the state that could leave her incarcerated for another 10 years is postponed without warning, leading Zaghari-Ratcliffe to say “People should not underestimate the level of stress. People tell me to calm down. You don’t understand what it is like. Nothing is calm.”

Return to prison threatened

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is told she is to stand trial on fresh charges and will be returning to prison after the hearing.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been through “a cruel and disgraceful ordeal due to the behaviour of the Iranian government”. He said she must be allowed to return home.

Tulip Siddiq, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, said the delay in waiting for the court’s verdict amounted to mental torture, but added the judge ended the 20 minute hearing by saying it would be her last appearance in court. “Nazanin is once again stuck in limbo and spending yet another Mother’s Day away from her husband and daughter.”

Some of the new charges include attending a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in London and being interviewed by the BBC Persian network. These events pre-date her visit to see her mother with her daughter Gabriella in Tehran, and it is unclear why they could not have been raised as evidence in the first trial in 2016.

The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, spoke with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, last Wednesday to underline how seriously the British took the threat of Iran imposing a second set of charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Iranian media reported that during the call Rouhani raised the issue of a £400m debt Britain acknowledges it owes the Islamic republic in capital and interest for a 1970s arms deal with the then Shah of Iran. The UK has said it cannot pay the debt due to sanctions on Iran.

Rouhani said it was very odd the debt had not been paid. The US had paid a parallel $1.7bn debt over a cancelled arms deal in 2016. The US payment in cash and instalments was made at the same as a prisoner swap that the US insisted was unrelated.

The trial comes against a fraught diplomatic backdrop, with talks about a US return to the nuclear deal stalled over how both Iran and the US could take simultaneous and consecutive steps to come back into compliance with the deal. The US says indirect diplomacy is under way between itself and Iran through the European Union and other intermediaries, but the slow progress has surprised and angered Tehran.

The UN nuclear inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Authority, is in talks with Iran over the level of inspections it will still be allowed to undertake at Iran’s nuclear sites.

Hardliners battling for prominence ahead of the June elections for the presidency are taking increasingly uncompromising positions on issues such as the level of permissible uranium enrichment.

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