Iran: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appears in court over new charge

Tehran court hears new charge of ‘propaganda against the establishment’ against the British-Iranian aid worker, who was previously given a five-year sentence for spying.

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their daughter Gabriella protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London [File: Andrew Boyers/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was previously held in Iran on spying charges, has appeared in a Tehran court to face a new charge of “propaganda against the establishment”.

The charge, which Iranian authorities had also tried to introduce previously on two separate occasions, is due to her participation in a gathering outside Iran’s embassy in London following the 2009 disputed election results and an interview she gave to BBC Persian.

Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told Al Jazeera that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s court session was held on Sunday, where the new charge was introduced.

“The defence also laid out its case, and we hope that she will be exonerated,” he said.

He said the court’s ruling may be released before Nowruz – Iran’s new year’s day – on March 20 or it may be postponed to after the holidays.

Under Article 500 of Iran’s Islamic penal code, “any person who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations” can be sentenced from three months to one year of imprisonment.

The United Kingdom denounced Iran’s pursuit of a second case against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“It is unacceptable that Iran has chosen to continue the second case against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“She has been put through a cruel and disgraceful ordeal by the calculating behaviour of the Iranian government. This must end.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time of her arrest in 2016, had her ankle tag removed last week after her five-year sentence came to an end.

Her family and the foundation, a charity operating independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its subsidiary Reuters news agency, deny the spying charge.

She had been under house arrest for the past year after being removed from Tehran’s Evin prison due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has led to deteriorating relations between Iran and the United Kingdom, which has repeatedly called for her unconditional release and return.

Rights groups and Western officials say her case is one of several instances of arbitrary arrest of foreigners by Iranian authorities who aim to use them for political leverage.

Iran, which does not formally recognise dual nationality status, denies engaging in this practice, saying its arrest of Iranian nationals is a domestic issue decided by an independent judiciary.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has said her case is tied to the fate of a decades-long debt the British government owes Iran, something Iranian authorities reject.

The UK has admitted that it owes Iran 400 million British pounds – now worth more than $550 million – for an order of Chieftain tanks before Iran’s 1979 revolution that was never fully delivered.

Source: Al Jazeera