'Body blow' for Briton jailed in Iran as judge says 'expect another conviction'

A British woman jailed in Iran after being convicted of spying has been told to expect another conviction after appearing in court over a new "invented" charge, her husband said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested and jailed in 2016, appeared in court on Saturday accused of spreading propaganda against Tehran's hardline Islamist regime.

The 39-year-old British-Iranian dual national, from Hampstead, north London, is serving a five-year sentence over allegations, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the mother of one had again denied committing any crime, and appealed for clemency and freedom so that she might be able to have a second child.

She told the court: "This year I am turning 40. I might only have a slim chance."

But Mr Ratcliffe said: "She was told by Judge Salavati to expect that she will be convicted."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, was arrested at Tehran Airport in April 2016 while with her then baby daughter Gabriella.

She was later jailed for five years but has consistently denied the charges against her, insisting that the trip was a holiday to introduce her daughter to her Iranian family.

Her time in Tehran's Evin prison, which included a period in solitary confinement, has left her with mental and physical health problems.

The new charge came despite telephone talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which she called for British prisoners held in the country, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, to be released on humanitarian grounds.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained

Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, said the new charge was "yet another body blow" for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family.

Ms Moscogiuri said: "Nazanin has already been subjected to a blatantly unfair trial and sentence, and a string of unfounded accusations in the Iranian media.

"We urge the UK Government - including the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - to now significantly escalate their response to Nazanin's plight.

"We need to hear ministers calling for this bogus new case to be dropped and for Nazanin to be released.

"Nazanin is a charity worker not a criminal, and the Iranian authorities should finally do the right thing - release her and allow her to come back to Britain with her young daughter."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained

The Free Nazanin Campaign said that on Sunday Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been able to telephone the British ambassador to Iran for the first time in more than two years.

It said: "She updated him on her case and situation, and requested that he try to visit. She also asked him to issue a formal diplomatic note protesting against the new charges and invented case against her.

"Nazanin discussed both with the judge and the ambassador a request for her to be released on furlough (temporary release) for Gabriella's birthday next month."

Downing Street said officials were seeking further information from Tehran.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Foreign Office is urgently seeking more information from the Iranian authorities.

"The UK Government remains committed to doing everything possible to help secure Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release and alleviate her suffering."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said it would not provide a running commentary on "every twist and turn" in the case.