British-Iranian woman back in court after 5 years in prison


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A trial to present fresh charges against a British-Iranian woman detained for five years in Iran convened Sunday, her supporters said, casting uncertainty over her future following her release from prison.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court in Tehran to face new charges of spreading “propaganda against Iran,” wrote Tulip Siddiq, a member of the British Parliament who represents her area of London and campaigned for her release. A verdict was expected next week, Siddiq added. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The new trial came a week after Zaghari-Ratcliffe completed her prison sentence on widely refuted spying charges. Although she was allowed to remove her ankle monitor and leave house arrest when her sentence formally ended, she remains unable to fly home to her family in London.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups vigorously deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the airport as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family in the capital of Tehran in 2016.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s yearslong case has sparked international outrage and strained ties between Britain and Iran. Her supporters have described her as collateral in a long-running dispute over a debt of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) owed to Iran by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

Rights groups accuse Iran of using dual-national detainees as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

Authorities released Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison on furlough last March because of the surging coronavirus pandemic, and she was detained in her parents’ home in Tehran. Last fall, Iranian state TV abruptly announced the new indictment against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but her trial was adjourned until this week.

Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is linked to the repayment deal for the non-delivery of tanks. But a prisoner exchange that freed four American citizens in 2016 saw the U.S. pay a similar sum to Iran the same day of their release.

In a call last week with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he stressed that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “continued confinement remains completely unacceptable.” Iran’s readout of the same telephone call made no mention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, instead claiming that Johnson had emphasized to Rouhani “the need to repay the country’s debts to Iran.”

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