Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is facing a fresh legal charge in Iran, just a week after she was released following five years of imprisonment.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker, appeared in court in Tehran on Sunday accused of engaging in “propaganda against the [Islamic Republic] establishment”.
She was jailed in Iran five years ago on spying charges that she has always denied and had been under house arrest in Tehran from March 2020 until her sentence ended and her ankle tag was removed last week.
The new case relates to her participation in a gathering in front of Iran’s embassy in London after the disputed 2009 presidential election. It is based on article 500 of Iran’s penal code, which sets a prison sentence of between three months and one year for anyone found guilty of propaganda against Iran’s establishment, or in favour of its opposition groups or institutions.
“The court session was held in a peaceful environment with Ms Zaghari and a representative of the prosecutor in attendance,” Hojjat Kermani, her lawyer, told the Financial Times. He described Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s spirit as “good”.
Kermani said it was not clear whether the judgment would be published before the new Iranian calendar year, which starts on March 21. “We must wait,” he said.
Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe previously lived, said on Twitter that she expected the verdict to be delivered “within a week”.
Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab criticised the new charge and called on Tehran to return Zaghari-Ratcliffe to her family in the UK “without further delay”.
“It is unacceptable and unjustifiable that Iran has chosen to continue with this second, wholly arbitrary, case against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” he said. “The Iranian government has deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal.”
In a phone call with Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani last week, UK prime minister Boris Johnson demanded the “immediate release” of the 42-year-old dual national, who has a six-year-old daughter.
“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,” a statement from Johnson’s office said on Wednesday.
Iran does not recognise the status of dual nationality. The Islamic republic says such cases are domestic affairs and are decided by Iran’s judiciary, which is independent.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe has suggested in the past that his wife’s case had been caught up in a diplomatic dispute over a £400m debt the UK owes to Iran for the purchase of Chieftain tanks before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Both governments insist there is no link between the two subjects.
Iran’s domestic media reported that Rouhani raised the debt issue during his phone talks with Johnson on Wednesday.
“While we are seeing that most countries indebted to Iran are either releasing the frozen assets or paying back their debts, it is very strange that no headway has been made with the trend of returning debts to Iran which are more than 40 years overdue,” Rouhani said.