Iran postpones new trial for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

New case with 'rehashed allegations' against the charity had been due to start on Sunday

(FILES) In this file handout photo released by the Free Nazanin campaign on March 17, 2020, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe poses holding an old picture of herself with her husband and daughter as she poses for a photograph in West Tehran, Iran following her release from prison for two weeks.
 Iran has postponed a new trial due to start Sunday, September 13 of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran for sedition, her husband said. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

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Iran abruptly postponed a new trial of jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Sunday sparking complaints by her family that she was being used as "bait" in a larger battle between the two countries.

Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, confirmed the delay of a trial for allegedly spreading propaganda against the regime that he described as a rehash of old allegations designed to put pressure on the UK to repay a decades-old arms deal debt.

"This remains a game of cat and moust between governments, with us living life as a piece of bait," he said in a statement.

He said that the delay was most likely because of efforts by the British Embassy to attend the planned hearing. No new date was given.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April 2016 as she prepared to return to the UK with her young daughter after visiting family in Iran.

She was jailed for five years after a secret trial and has been accused in the Iranian media of acting against the regime’s leadership. Campaigners say she is being held hostage because of a wider diplomatic dispute with London.

The 41-year-old is staying with her family in Iran on temporary release from Evin prison because of the coronavirus crisis but was summoned back to court last week to learn of new charges against her.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was expecting members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to collect her from her parents' home on Sunday morning, but they failed to turn up.

She told her husband: “I would have rather it happened today. I do not sleep at all while the case is hanging over me. This morning I wanted to get it over with – to know where I stand now rather than continue with this whole stupid game.”

Her family believe that the announcement of the trial was an attempt to put greater pressure on the UK government to settle the case over the deal for UK-built tanks that was cancelled following the 1979 Revolution.

The UK says that it accepts that it owes the debt for undelivered goods but says that court hearings continue over the exact amount to be paid. It is also restricted from repaying the money because of sanctions.

Iran’s Defence Ministry said last week that London should take “practical and immediate” steps to pay off the debt “so that the dissatisfaction and protest of the Iranian government and people towards Britain not to be continued,” Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported.

But it said that the debt had nothing to do with the release of dual national prisoners, a position taken by both governments.

Mr Ratcliffe said the hearing on Sunday was probably linked to comments by the UK government about its willingness to repay the debt. It had been expecting the move but not until next year as the end date of her imprisonment approached.

He said that his wife's lawyer was able to examine the trial file last week and there was no new documents relating to events over the past two years.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was working for the philanthropic arm of the Thomson Reuters news organisation when she was arrested.

Her British MP, Tulip Siddiq, said in a tweet that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is “relieved, frustrated, stressed and angry. Once again she's being treated like a bargaining chip".