Court postpones ‘groundless’ new trial of British-Iranian aid worker at last minute, says husband


Iran’s government on Sunday abruptly postponed a new trial of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, according to her husband, who accused the Islamic republic of treating his wife as “political leverage”.

Richard Ratcliffe said his wife’s Iranian lawyer was told “the case was not happening today”, but no explanation was offered by the court as to when it might now happen.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been imprisoned in Iran for four years over allegations of plotting to overthrow the regime was hauled up before a revolutionary court on Tuesday and told she would face fresh charges at a trial on Sunday.

Her lawyer was given mere days to prepare for the trial, which could have seen the 42-year-old imprisoned for another 10 years on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda, according to her husband.

There appeared to be no new evidence in the case, which Tehran dropped in December 2017, after a visit from the then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, but reopened in May 2018.

Mr. Ratcliffe believes the charges are further evidence his wife is being used as “political leverage” in a fiscal dispute over a botched UK-Iran arms deal struck in the 1970s.

Having been moved to house arrest in March, when thousands of prisoners were granted clemency and released from Iranian jails during the coronavirus outbreak, the mother-of-one “woke up terrified” on Tuesday when soldiers came to take her to court, her husband said.

“The guys in the Jeep came along, Revolutionary Guards, they’re the guys that kept her and interrogated her,” Mr. Ratcliffe said on Thursday.

“So she was fearing the worst, that she was being taken back to prison and had to be reassured, really, that it was actually court she was going to.”

Amnesty International UK accused the Iranian authorities of “playing cruel political games” with Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and called on the UK government to make getting her home for Christmas its “absolute priority”.

“Nazanin has already been unjustly convicted once after a deeply unfair trial. It is a nonsense that she should ever have even faced a second court date,” said the human rights organisation’s director Kate Allen. “It appears the Iranian authorities are playing cruel political games with Nazanin.

“Securing Nazanin’s release should be an absolute priority. As a matter of urgency, ministers now need to step up their efforts to get Nazanin home in time for Christmas and provide a clear plan on how they will do this.”

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the deferral of this groundless court hearing, and call on Iran to make Nazanin’s release permanent so that she can return to her family in the UK.”

Mr. Ratcliffe had urged UK officials to insist on attending her trial and said the situation had left his family “caught” between two governments “fighting”.

He believes that Iran is holding Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe in order to force the UK into settling a multimillion-pound dispute dating back to the 1970s, when the Shah paid the UK £400m for 1,500 Chieftan tanks.

After he was toppled in 1979, Britain refused to deliver the remaining 1,315 tanks to the new Islamic Republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid. (Source: Independent UK)