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British Foreign Secretary Faces Calls to Resign

  • Henry Ridgwell

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign after saying recently that a British-Iranian woman currently jailed in Iran had been training journalists when she was arrested. Boris Johnson has since said he "could have chosen his words more carefully."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she tried to return home to Britain after a vacation to visit her parents.

Iranian authorities have never revealed the exact charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but earlier this year sentenced her to jail for five years, purportedly on grounds of national security.'

FILE -- Richard Ratcliffe husband of imprisoned charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, poses for the media during an Amnesty International led vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Jan. 16, 2017.
FILE -- Richard Ratcliffe husband of imprisoned charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, poses for the media during an Amnesty International led vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Jan. 16, 2017.

The website of the Iranian judiciary Monday published an article quoting Johnson, saying the foreign secretary's statement "has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin."

The Reuters news agency reports that after Johnson made the controversial remarks, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought back to court in Iran and accused by a judge of "spreading propaganda against the regime."

Johnson's remark that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran "teaching people journalism" was made before a parliamentary committee last week.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, says that is false, and fears Iran will use Johnson's words to justify extending her sentence.

"We have not seen any progress in Nazanin's situation, and the situation is that now they want to double her sentence. This is unimaginable that she would do 10 years without being a culprit of anything," said Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked as a project manager.

Johnson has since spoken to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the telephone and said that the earlier remarks "could form no justifiable basis for further action in this case." Johnson said he plans to travel to Tehran in the coming weeks to discuss the case.

FILE - Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gives a speech at the British Embassy during his European tour on Brexit, in Paris, France, Oct. 27, 2017.
FILE - Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gives a speech at the British Embassy during his European tour on Brexit, in Paris, France, Oct. 27, 2017.

The incident sparked a heated exchange in the British parliament Tuesday as Johnson faced opposition calls to step down.

"How about the foreign secretary himself show a bit of personal responsibility and admit that a job like this, where your words hold gravity and your actions have consequences, is simply not the job for him," opposition Labor MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told lawmakers.

Johnson accused his rival of trying to create political capital out of the incident.

"She can choose to blame, to heap blame, on to the British Foreign Office that is trying to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and in so doing, she deflects blame, she deflects accountability from those who are truly responsible for holding that mother in jail, and that is the Iranian regime."

The foreign secretary added the British government had "no doubt" Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on vacation.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been separated from her two-year-old daughter, who is now being cared for by her grandparents. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still only able to see her child for strictly limited periods. She has been held in solitary confinement and her health is reported to be deteriorating.

Despite the setbacks, her family and supporters say they still have hope that she will be released before Christmas.

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