U.K. Suggests Iran Is Holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe Hostage

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested Iran is holding the dual British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hostage.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe last week was handed a new one-year jail term for “propaganda against the state,” after completing a five-year sentence for sedition and espionage in Tehran in March. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has always denied the charges against her, is appealing, according to her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani.

“It’s very difficult to argue against that characterization,” Raab told BBC News on Sunday after being asked if she is being held hostage. “I think it amounts to torture the way she’s been treated and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her.”

The new sentence threatened to raise tensions as world powers -- including the U.K. -- are trying to restore the multi-lateral nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

Iranian state TV reported on Sunday that the U.K. was preparing to pay a longstanding 400 million-pound ($553 million) debt owed to Iran in exchange for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, citing the Beirut-based al Mayadeen channel which didn’t disclose the source of the information. The debt stems from a 1970s order for scores of tanks that Tehran bought but didn’t receive after the Islamic Revolution halted trade ties.

Tank Debt

Kermani, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer, said in a phone interview that he wasn’t aware of any such deal. The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it would continue to work to resolve the 40-year old case, but declined to comment further because legal discussions continue. Its response didn’t mention Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Speaking before the reports on the debt, Raab said the money “is not actually the thing that is holding us up at the moment,” Raab said. “It is the wider context, as we come up to the Iranian presidential elections and the wider negotiations” on the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, Raab said “that debt is something that we want to have resolved and we’re committed to resolution.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by police and separated from her baby daughter at Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport in April 2016, when she was returning to her home in the U.K.

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