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.”
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.