News by VICE

British woman held in Iran on spying charges loses final appeal and will spend five years in jail

by Tim Hume
Apr 25 2017, 11:39am

A British-Iranian woman sentenced to five years in jail in Iran on undisclosed national security offenses has lost her final legal appeal, quashing her hopes of overturning the sentence and prompting calls from her family for the British government to do more to help.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a London-based project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by elite Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she and her daughter were about to return home from a visit to family in the country.

The 38-year-old was found guilty on unspecified charges relating to national security in September. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told VICE News Tuesday that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had still not seen the charges against her, although her lawyer had said they related to membership in organizations working against Iran’s national security. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have publicly accused her of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Iranian government.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied doing anything wrong, and her husband has said he believes the Iranian government may be seeking to use her as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the British government.

Now that Iran’s Supreme Court has rejected her last appeal against the sentence, exhausting her final legal avenue, Ratcliffe and the family’s supporters are calling on the British government to do more to help, including publicly declaring that she is not a spy.

“What they haven’t done is ever make a public statement to say, ‘Listen, these charges are nonsense’,” he told VICE News.

“She was a mum on holiday, who works for a development charity in London, whose crime seems to be that it gets funding from the U.K. government. That is not espionage, that is not attempting to overthrow a regime, and it is not working against national security.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, carries out journalism training, but does “not operate in Iran directly or indirectly,” the foundation’s CEO, Monique Villa, said in a statement.

Villa said she was “entirely convinced of Nazanin’s innocence” and that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “never had dealings with Iran whatsoever in her professional capacity at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.” The court ruling, she said, “extinguishes the last hope we have had of legally overturning a punishment where the crime remains a mystery.”

She called for Iran to grant clemency and immediately release her, saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “suffered terribly over the past year.”

Ratcliffe said that while his wife was now in the general population in Tehran’s Evin prison, she had spent a large part of her time behind bars in solitary confinement, which had taken a huge toll on her physical and mental health. She had suffered a slipped disc in her back which impeded the use of her arms, and had been prescribed sleeping pills, anti-depressants and a neck brace. At one stage, in December, she had considered taking her own life.

He said her situation has been made even more difficult by the fact she holds both British and Iranian citizenship. Iran refuses to recognise dual nationals, and has repeatedly refused British diplomats access to her in prison.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s supreme court appeal has been rejected, while Iran continues to refuse the U.K. access to her,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth office said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had both raised her case with their Iranian counterparts, the statement continued, adding that the government would “continue to do all we can for her.”

Ratcliffe, who has been able to speak to his wife only ten times since her arrest, said her mood had been slightly buoyed by the fact that she could now be visited twice a week by their two-year-old daughter Gabriella. Gabriella has been cared for by her Iranian grandparents since Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest, after the Iranian government confiscated the child’s passport.

“I spoke to Nazanin on the phone in February and she cried during the whole phone call. It was really quite traumatic,” said Ratcliffe.

“When I next spoke to her, in April, she was angry. But anger is better than crying.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe