Friday, February 26, 2021

New charges for British-Iranian accused of espionage

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since 2016, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

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New charges against British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran are “indefensible and unacceptable”, the British Foreign Office has said.

The 42-year-old mother-of-one has been detained in Iran since 2016, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations – which she denies – of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

She was allowed out of prison on house arrest in March, when thousands of prisoners were granted clemency and released from Iranian jails amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

She has been confined at her parents’ home in Tehran with an ankle monitor ever since.

But on Tuesday Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court and told she faces a second trial.

Her husband has told Sky News his wife is being held as a “bargaining chip” amid a £400 million dispute between the UK and Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe said new charges against his wife were the latest in a “game of cat and mouse” which began with her arrest nearly five years ago.

The new charges have not been officially disclosed but Ratcliffe said they include an allegation of spreading anti-government propaganda.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared before a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran on Tuesday morning, a local TV report said, citing an unnamed official.

Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 4 that the news was “certainly very tough for her”, adding: “I spoke to her just before she went into court. That’s probably when she was most terrified and in all honesty she had fears that she was being taken back to prison, not to court at all, that it was a big trick.”

“She’s been really counting down the days until the end of her sentence and suddenly those goalposts look like they are about to move,” he added to BBC Breakfast.

Ratcliffe said his wife and other dual nationals are being held hostage because Iran wants the UK to pay back about £400 million for some Chieftain battle tanks it sold the former shah of Iran but never delivered after the 1979 revolution.

The UK has agreed to pay the money but can’t until a legal way is found to get round the sanctions that currently make repayment impossible.

The Foreign Office said British officials will try to attend the trial.

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