The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has told Sky News his wife is being held as a “bargaining chip” amid a £400m dispute between the UK and Iran.
Richard Ratcliffe said new charges against his wife were the latest in a “game of cat and mouse” which began with her arrest nearly five years ago.
The 42-year-old mother-of-one has been detained in Iran since 2016, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations – which she denies – of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.
She was allowed out on house arrest in March, when thousands of prisoners were granted clemency and released from Iranian jails amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
She has been confined at her parents’ home in Tehran with an ankle monitor ever since.
But on Tuesday Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court and told she faces a second trial.
The charges were not previously disclosed but Mr Ratcliffe said it was an allegation of spreading anti-government propaganda.
She will face trial on Sunday for the charges which were originally dropped in December 2017 after a visit from the then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, but reopened in May 2018.
Mr Ratcliffe told Sky’s Kay Burley: “It’s not looking good.
“We were getting close to the end of her sentence, early March it should end, and I was worrying.
“Behind closed doors we were saying to the Foreign Office, ‘you can’t just wait. If we get close to the end and we haven’t solved the issue and you aren’t making it clear to Iran it’s not OK there is every chance that they will revive this case’ and indeed they have.”
It has been claimed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held in order to force the UK into settling a multi-million pound dispute with Iran.
The debt dates 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, Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.
Sanctions mean there is currently no legal way for the UK to make the repayments.
Mr Ratcliffe said he feels his wife has been “held hostage” over the debt.
He said: “I think Nazanin was picked up in the first place to get that money.”
He added he feels it would be “an awfully lot easier” to finally get Nazanin released if the UK were to pay the money back.
Mr Ratcliffe told Sky News his wife feared she was going straight to jail when she was picked up by officials on Tuesday.
He said: “When she was picked up in the morning it was by the Revolutionary Guard interrogators who held her in solitary confinement.
“She spent all morning worrying she would be taken back to prison.
“She’s back at her mum and dads’ and she will be in court in Sunday.”
Nazanin was nearing the end of her sentence for spying and was due to be released next year.
She had been visiting her parents with her young British-born daughter, Gabriella, who is now six and living with her father in the UK.
Redress, a torture survivor’s group working to free Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has urged the government to react “firmly and quickly”.
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Leanna Burnard, the group’s legal officer, said: “The UK government must assert Nazanin’s rights under international law, given its decision to exercise diplomatic protection in her case.
“It must insist on urgently visiting Nazanin and seeking consular access to attend Nazanin’s second trial, to demonstrate to Iran that it is ready to protect the legal rights of its nationals.”
The Foreign Office said they will attempt to send a British official to a hearing.
They said in a statement: “Iran bringing new charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is indefensible and unacceptable.
“We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison.”
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