The UK has condemned Iran’s “unacceptable and unjustified” treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she was summoned to a court and told to prepare for a return to prison.
The 42-year-old has been held in Tehran on charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, allegations which she denies, since 2016 but had been moved from her cell to a family home in March as part of the country’s coronavirus containment measures.
On Tuesday she was summoned to a court appearance and told to pack a bag as she would be returning to jail following the hearing on Monday, according to her husband Richard Ratcliffe.
“We don’t know what will happen on Monday, we don’t know how far and how soon they will take forward their prison threat,” he added.
“But we do know that the Revolutionary Guard are signalling something to the British government. We also know they are signalling this could have a long time still to run.”
The move by Iran to detain the mother of one has prompted a stern response from the UK government, with a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office calling the move an “unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable decision”.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “Iran’s continued treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in this manner is unacceptable and unjustified.
“It tarnishes Iran’s reputation and is causing enormous distress to Nazanin and her family. Iran must end her arbitrary detention and that of all dual British nationals.”
It has been claimed Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held to force the UK to settle on a debt dating back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400m for 1,500 Chieftain tanks. After he was toppled in 1979, the UK refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP Tulip Siddiq, who has championed her case in the House of Commons, said the timing of the trial raised “serious concerns” as it follows the postponement of a court hearing about the historic debt.
The MP for Hampstead and Kilburn said in a statement: “Nazanin has once again been treated with utter contempt and I am extremely concerned about her future and wellbeing.
“The timing of this development alongside the postponement of the court hearing about the UK’s historic debt to Iran raises serious concerns.
“I can only hope that there is work going on behind the scenes to resolve the debt quickly because we seem to be going in completely the wrong direction and Nazanin, as ever, is paying the price.”
Having already served the majority of a five-year sentence, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in September and told she would face a second trial. However, the hearing was postponed at short notice with no future date set.
Her husband said the trial would hear charges of spreading anti-government propaganda, in a case officials dropped in December 2017 after a visit from the then foreign secretary Boris Johnson but reopened in May 2018.
Mr Ratcliffe said he had spoken to Mr Raab on Tuesday, asking him to formally assert the UK’s right to consular access in visiting Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and attending the trial.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” Mr Ratcliffe added.
“I really hope there’s something we’re not being told, as on the face of it, the government’s response seems disastrous, just extraordinary that they won’t change course.”