Iran Nixes Hopes of Swift Release for UK-Iranian Mother

Iran’s justice ministry confirmed on Friday that authorities have opened a new case against British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been sentenced to five years in jail, and denied she might soon be released.

“Iran’s judiciary cannot confirm any of the claims in Western media about this case. When a decision is made, it will be announced by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary or through diplomatic channels. Besides serving her current sentence, she has also another ongoing case against her in court… We do not know if she would be found guilty or not,” the head of the justice department in Tehran province, Gholamhossein Esmaili, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Friday.

He explained that in the new case, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has not been issued a sentence and cannot be expected to be convicted or acquitted before the judge determines the sentence.

Tehran’s judiciary chief dismissed hopes of a swift release, possibly in time for Christmas, for British-Iranian, who is serving a jail sentence for alleged sedition, The New Arab reports.

“Nazanin Zaghari has two cases – in the first, she has been convicted, but the second has yet to go to court and there is no verdict.The court can convict or acquit her. If she is convicted, we don’t know what the sentence will be. So we don’t know when she will be able to be released,” Esmaili told the judiciary’s Mizanonline news service.

The new charges included joining and receiving money from organizations working to overthrow the Islamic Republic and attending a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London, the family said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, after visiting relatives with her young daughter. Iranian authorities accused her of links to mass protests in 2009, which she denies, and sentenced her to five years in jail for sedition. They do not recognize dual nationality.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told AFP on Thursday that he had been told by an Iranian lawyer that she was now “marked for early release”.

“He said there’s still paperwork to finalize, but it should be over soon – days to weeks, not months or years.”

On her being home in time for Christmas, Ratcliffe said there was “an outside shot”. Her case has become highly politicised, especially after a “slip of the tongue” by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last month when he stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran, which has been used by prosecutors to help justify the new charges.

Johnson visited Tehran earlier this month to press for her release on humanitarian grounds. An online petition in her support has collected almost 1.5 million signatures.

Thomson Reuters chief executive Monique Villa called her sentence “a mockery of justice,” and said the new charges risked a further 16-year prison sentence.  Zaghari-Ratcliffe is reportedly “close to a mental breakdown”, after suffering panic attacks, insomnia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.