PRAYERS for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (News, 8 January) are being “redoubled” after the news that she has been sentenced to a further year in prison in Iran, her parish priest, the Revd Jonathan Kester, said.
Her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, said on Monday that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is British-Iranian, had been accused of taking part in a protest in London 12 years ago, and of speaking to the BBC Persian service. She has also received a year-long travel ban.
She was first jailed in Iran five years ago for crimes including plotting the overthrow of the Iranian government — charges that she has always denied. She had finished serving that sentence, and is currently living with her parents in Tehran (News, 26 April 2016).
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who has campaigned tirelessly for her release, said that she had not yet been taken back to prison. He has not seen his wife since 2016. Their daughter, Gabriella, who had been with her mother in Tehran when she was arrested, returned to live with him in London in 2019.
Fr Kester, who is Vicar of Emmanuel Church in West Hampstead, where the family lives, said: “The congregation at Emmanuel Church are deeply concerned by the latest news of Nazanin being sentenced to a further year of captivity. Richard and Gabriella have become greatly loved members of the local community here, and we are redoubling our prayers for Nazanin’s release and assuring Richard of all that we can do practically to bring this about.
“The picture of Nazanin, Richard, and Gabriella is currently beside our paschal candle as a sign of the light and hope which flows from the resurrection of Christ.
“We had all hoped and prayed that Nazanin would be reunited with Richard and Gabriella this Eastertide, but it seems, sadly, that she is being used as a pawn in the money which is owed back to Iran from a partly fulfilled arms deal from the UK at the time of the fall of the Shah and the Iran revolution.”
Mr Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that he had not yet told his daughter that her mother could be in prison for another year.
The Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the move by Iran was “totally inhumane and wholly unjustified”, and that the Government was doing all it could to secure her return.
But Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, the constituency where the Ratcliffes live, blamed the “dismal failure” to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release on the Prime Minister, who, as Foreign Secretary in 2017, made a misleading statement in which he described her as “teaching journalism”, which was then quoted in the case against her as proof that she was engaged in propaganda.