LONDON: British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Friday told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that an incorrect comment he made as foreign secretary had a big impact on her six-year detention in Iran, saying she lived in the shadow of his error.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe returned to London in March when she was released along with another dual national after Britain repaid a historic debt.
It was the first time she had met Johnson, who was foreign secretary in 2017 when he erroneously said she had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in April 2016. His comment contradicted statements made by Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her employer, who said she had been on holiday visiting family.
She was subsequently convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Johnson later apologised and retracted any suggestion that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was there in a professional capacity.
Her local member of parliament, who attended the meeting, said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had told Johnson to his face about the problems his mistake had caused.
“She told him very clearly and categorically that his words had a big impact on her and that she lived in the shadow of his words for the best part of four-and-a-half years,” Tulip Siddiq told reporters after meeting Johnson with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family.
“I had to say the prime minister looked quite shocked.” The aid worker’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said Johnson’s comments were even brought up by interrogators during Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s last days in Iran as she waited to come home.
He said Johnson did not explicitly apologise for his error but the encounter had not been “abrasive”.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe did not speak to reporters herself, instead playing with the couple’s daughter Gabriella outside Johnson’s Downing Street office while her husband and Siddiq addressed the media.
“It was an honour to welcome Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella to Downing Street today,” Johnson wrote on Twitter, but he did not address his mistaken comment in 2017.
“We discussed the UKs work to secure the release of unfairly detained nationals in Iran and I commended Nazanin for her incredible bravery during her ordeal.” Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, while trying to return to Britain with her then 22-month-old daughter from an Iranian New Year’s trip to see her parents.
Her family and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, denied the charges against her. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022