Friday 23 August 2019

Explainer: Why a jailed aid worker in Iran is leading to calls for Boris Johnson to resign

British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo
British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo Newsdesk Newsdesk

The campaign for the release of British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from an Iranian jail has been ongoing for 18 months but it is now leading to calls for the resignation of the UK's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Here is all you need to know:

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a 38-year old British Iranian who was arrested at Tehran Airport 18 months ago. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been visiting her parents to introduce them to her daughter, Gabriella. However, in September, the mother-of-one was jailed for five years on allegations of spying and attempting to topple the Iranian regime.

Why has the issue escalated this week?

Last week, Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "simply teaching people journalism" in Iran. This contradicts her insistence that she was there on a family visit.

It led to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe being summoned back to court and threatened with further charges.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity organisation, said Johnson's comment made on November 1 was incorrect, while opposition British lawmakers said the remarks could land the aid worker a longer term in jail.

What happened over the weekend?

Though Johnson clarified his comments, telling the House of Commons that "the UK Government has no doubt she was on holiday" there were calls for him to resign over the issue.

However, over the weekend, two of his Cabinet colleagues came out to defend him this weekend.

Environment Minister Michael Gove urged critics to stop focusing on Johnson's role in the case and instead to question the motivation of what he called "the Iranian regime" in jailing Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"There is no reason, no excuse and no justification for her detention and she should be released," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.

And Brexit minister David Davis told Sky: "Why would you want to sack him? He's a good foreign secretary."

Who is calling for Johnson to go?

Leading the way is Zaghari-Ratcliffe's local MP, Labour's Tulip Siddiq. Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Monday, Ms Siddiq called on the Foreign Secretary to "make amends" for his words.

"This issue isn't political point-scoring for me; this about getting an innocent mother home," she said.

"I've been campaigning on this for 18 months - if Boris Johnson is going to Iran then I have a few demands.

"The first is that he needs to take my constituent, Richard Ratcliffe, with him.

"When he gets to Iran, I want him to meet Nazanin face to face. There's a history of British diplomats going to Iran, visiting the very prison that Nazanin is in and not getting to meet her."

She added: "If the Foreign Secretary goes to Iran, meets Nazanin, takes Richard and officially retracts the statement he's made then at least he's trying to make amends for what he said."

She said: "If my constituent spends even one more day in prison as a result of what the Foreign Secretary said then he should resign."

Yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on May to sack Johnson, writing in the Observer newspaper that "we've put up with him embarrassing and undermining our country through his incompetence ... for long enough. It's time for Boris Johnson to go".

Has Johnson done anything this weekend?

According to reports, Johnson had held a "very constructive" phone call with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who has also called on the minister to visit his wife in jail.

Mr Ratcliffe also declined to call for Johnson's resignation, saying his wife's interests are "not served by more instability".

Do we know how Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is doing in jail?

Speaking last night, her husband said his wife is on the edge of a "nervous breakdown" and he also told the Guardian that lumps had been found in her breasts.

He also said she had been angry at Johnson, calling the situation a "shambles".

What happens next?

The fragility of the UK Government may save Johnson's skin. The show of support for Johnson from fellow Brexit campaigners Gove and Davis demonstrates the difficulties UK Prime Minister Theresa May faces in keeping her cabinet unified on a range of issues.

She lost two of her ministers in a week: Michael Fallon quit as defence minister in a growing sexual harassment scandal and then Priti Patel was forced out of her job as aid minister over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials.

Forty members of the Conservative Party have agreed to sign a letter of no-confidence in the prime ministers, eight short of the number needed to trigger a leadership contest, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Johnson and Richard Ratcliffe are also due to meet face-to-face in the coming days.

Asked if the minister had apologised for the remarks, Mr Ratcliffe told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "He was sorry for what Nazanin was going through, and for her suffering, and he said all of the country was behind her."

Pressed on whether Mr Johnson said sorry for his comments, Mr Ratcliffe said: "He didn't make the connection. He didn't mention it."

Mr Ratcliffe said he did not bring the comments up with the Foreign Secretary as they discussed ways to help his wife.

He said Mr Johnson is now "personally engaged" in the case following controversy over his remarks.

Mr Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It feels now we do have the Foreign Secretary's personal engagement. He did promise to consider whether she would be eligible for diplomatic protection. Which again gives a different aspect and a different push to what they will do for her."

On Monday afternoon it was reported that ministers are considering offering Zaghari-Ratcliffe "diplomatic protection" as a possible way of speeding her release from jail in Iran, Downing Street has said.

There was no immediate explanation from the Foreign Office of what "diplomatic protection" status could mean for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Mr Ratcliffe said that the idea was raised with him by Mr Johnson, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It feels now we do have the Foreign Secretary's personal engagement. He did promise to consider whether she would be eligible for diplomatic protection. Which again gives a different aspect and a different push to what they will do for her."

And Theresa May's official spokesman said the diplomatic status was "one of the options" being considered in the case.

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