Report of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release is dismissed as Raab calls her treatment ‘torture’
UK officials have dismissed reports from Iran that Britain has agreed a deal to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Iranian state TV claimed on Sunday that the 42-year-old charity worker would be freed from prison once the UK pays a £400m military debt.
However a Foreign Office spokesperson said the government’s position remained unchanged and added: “We continue to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing.” Iran has made similar claims before, the Foreign Office said.
The report emerged a few hours after foreign secretary Dominic Raab said Iran’s treatment of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe “amounts to torture” and called on Iran to “release her immediately and without condition”.
“It is clear that she is subjected to a cat-and-mouse game that the Iranians, or certainly part of the Iranian system, engage with and they try and use her for leverage on the UK,” Mr Raab told the BBC.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, was sentenced to a fresh one-year jail term on Monday and given a travel ban in Iran for the same amount of time on a new charge of “spreading propaganda against the regime”.
She has already served five years in prison after being arrested on national security charges at Tehran airport in 2016 while making her way back to the UK.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said the family had not heard anything new but added: “It’s probably a good sign that it’s being signalled, just as last week’s sentence was a bad sign. But it feels part of the negotiations rather than the end of them.”
Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, said the reports from Iran “came as an utter surprise.”
“Nazanin‘s family has been burned before which is why they’re not celebrating quite yet,” she told Press Association.
The dispute over the UK’s debt dates back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks. Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic when the shah was toppled in 1979.
However Mr Raab said that the debt was not the only issue, adding: “That is not actually the thing that’s holding us up at the moment, it’s the wider context as we come up to the Iranian presidential elections and the wider elections on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which, inevitably from the Iranian perspective, the two are considered in tandem.”
“Nazanin is held unlawfully, in my view, as a matter of international law. I think she’s being treated in the most abusive, tortuous way. I think it amounts to torture, the way she’s being treated.”
The Iranian state broadcaster also claimed that the US had agreed to a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of around £5bn in frozen Iranian funds.
But in a statement to the Associated Press, a State Department spokesperson said reports of its agreement “are not true”.