FILE - Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen in an undated photograph handed out by her family.
FILE - Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen in an undated photograph handed out by her family.

The husband of an Iranian-British woman jailed in Iran for alleged spying says she could be charged with an additional crime in the coming days, dashing her hopes for an early release from prison.

In a Tuesday interview with VOA Persian from London, Richard Ratcliffe said his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, told him of the potential new charge in a phone call a day earlier from Tehran's Evin prison.

Ratcliffe said his wife told him that her father had learned of the potential new charge in a visit to the Tehran prosecutor's office. He said the office had told her father that it would make a decision on the case next week.

Ratcliffe said he believed the new charge against his wife could be that of spreading propaganda against the Iranian government. She began serving a five-year sentence in 2016 for spying, which she denies having done.

Richard Ratcliffe husband of imprisoned charity wo
FILE - Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is jailed in Iran, is pictured during an Amnesty International-led vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Jan. 16, 2017.

Ratcliffe said the main impact of the second open case against his wife was that authorities had suspended her application for an early release or a furlough from her existing sentence. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the London-based charitable arm of Canadian news company Thomson Reuters. Iranian authorities detained her in April 2016 as she tried to return home to Britain after visiting her family in Iran with her infant daughter. The 40-year-old woman has been seeking at least a furlough from prison to spend time with her daughter and parents.

Concurrent sentence, or acquittal

Ratcliffe said Tehran prosecutors told his father-in-law that Nazanin could face a new sentence of less than five years, applied concurrently with her existing sentence so as not to extend her jail time. He said the prosecutors also mentioned the possibility of prolonging her current term or granting an acquittal.

Ratcliffe said his wife initially was very distressed by news of a potential second criminal case against her but was calmer when he spoke to her again on Tuesday. He said she had written a letter to Iran's judiciary chief asking for an explanation of the second criminal case, which she thought had been dropped.

Ratcliffe told VOA he believed Tehran's pursuit of a second case against his wife was connected to its negotiations with European powers about preserving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was due to discuss the nuclear deal with his EU counterparts, including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in Brussels on Tuesday. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement last week, prompting Iran to enter into talks with the deal's other signatories about whether to maintain it.

"Clearly, the new case against Nazanin is a political act," Ratcliffe said. 

Rights activists have long accused Iran of arbitrarily detaining Iranian dual nationals and foreigners with Western connections to use as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. 

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service.