British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in Iran court on propaganda charges

British government condemns the case as 'wholly arbitrary' and demands her release

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The UK condemned Iran's government after British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in a Tehran court on Sunday to face propaganda charges, a week after she finished a five-year jail sentence related to a separate case.

Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told AFP that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was now being prosecuted for "propaganda against the system for having participated in a rally in front of the Iranian embassy in London" in 2009.

She was told by the judge that it would be the final hearing of a case that had been adjourned in November 2020 and to expect a verdict within a week.

The UK said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return to her family in the UK without delay.

“It is unacceptable and unjustifiable that Iran has chosen to continue with this second, wholly arbitrary, case against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe," said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab

"The Iranian government has deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal."

After the hearing, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she was relieved the court process was finished.

"I hope it is all done. I hope I’m not going to see them all again, and that this is the end," she said in a statement released by her supporters.

"I was so stressed this past week. By the end I just couldn’t do anything. I didn’t want to go outside. I am glad that today I could keep calm. I’ve promised my sister we can go out to a bakery for a coffee. All we can do is wait.”

It comes only a week after Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from house arrest last Sunday at the end of a five-year jail sentence, most of it served at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.

However, she was summoned to court again on a further charge, one which her family fears could lead to her being sent back to prison.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's supporters say she is being used as leverage by Iran as part of a long-standing debt it says it is owed by the UK.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said he was disappointed the British embassy in Iran did not "seriously" try to attend the hearing.

"I do think it was a missed opportunity to challenge the seclusion and victim blaming that goes along with Iran’s hostage taking practices, and this all still passes as normalised, Mr Ratcliffe said.

But he added that he was relieved the hearing was finished and that the judge implied "that it will not be drawn out again and again".

"Obviously none of this is a real trial or a fair one, but an act of leverage and abuse in judicial clothes. So the sooner this is finished with – almost regardless of the sentence – the better for Nazanin," he said.

“In our experience, the Revolutionary Court doesn’t do acquittals, though there can be a range of sentences. So all we can do is wait to see what fate brings.

"Her future remains uncertain, with all the stress that comes with that. But at least it is not a continually drawn out trial, which was the main thing I feared," Mr Ratcliffe added.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the country's clerical establishment.

Antonio Zappulla, the chief executive of the TRF, said Ms Zaghari Ratcliffe should be reunited with her daughter on what is Mothers Day in the UK.

"Instead, this latest trial and delayed outcome is a deliberate move to prolong her ordeal and her suffering. Nazanin is an innocent victim of a political dispute," he added.

Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media company Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.

She was released to house arrest last March during the coronavirus pandemic but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.

Last Sunday, the Iranian authorities removed her ankle tag, but she could still not leave the country.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab welcomed the removal of the ankle tag but said Iran continued to put Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family through a "cruel and an intolerable ordeal".

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to her family.

Iranian media reported that during the call Mr Rouhani raised the issue of the £400 million ($557m) historical debt which Tehran says Britain owes the county in capital and interest for a 1970s arms deal with the then-Shah of Iran.