A British mother jailed in Iran hailed the “light at the end of the tunnel” on Sunday when a fresh trial was postponed after Boris Johnson met with the country’s president.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian government, said she could “see some light today” after news of the postponement reached her.
She had been scheduled to face additional charges of spreading anti-government propaganda in court on Sunday. But a senior court official told Iran’s Fars news agency that no hearing would be held.
“I ... declare that no court session has been held for Ms Nazanin Zaghari today,” Moussa Qazanfarabadi, the Head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court said, the agency reported.
Following the news, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe released a statement of her own, saying: “The court, the imprisonment emerged all of a sudden out of the blue, so I hope it can disappear out of the blue also – if there is enough will."
The mother-of-one described a feeling of cautious optimism after previous attempts to free her had failed.
“This time, again it feels close, but I am not planning it, not setting a date for myself,” she added.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband said the 38-year old from Hampstead learned of the postponement only when she was not summoned into court – something he described as “the first ripple of freedom”.
“She was not summoned as expected, and then she knew when she wasn’t taken into court, “ Richard Ratcliffe told The Telegraph. “She is immensely relieved this morning. Like a weight has been lifted off.”
Mr Johnson left Iran on Sunday morning after what the Foreign Office called “forthright” but “worthwhile” talks with Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, over regional tensions, the Iranian nuclear deal, and bilateral issues including the fate of jailed British-Iranian dual nationals. He was expected to press for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release on humanitarian grounds.
“Both spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas,” said a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The meeting with Mr Rouhani ended a two-day visit in which Mr Johnson also met Mohammad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation. He also met with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family on Saturday evening.
Mr Johnson’s visit to Tehran, only the third by a British foreign secretary since 2003, follows a small thaw in relations since sanctions against Iran were lifted following a deal to restrict the country’s nuclear programme in 2016.
Iran has also expressed frustration that British banks have been reluctant to do business with Iran despite the lifting of sanctions when the nuclear agreement was signed in 2016.
Many UK banks fear exposure to additional US sanctions that remain in place. The impasse left the Iranian embassy in London unable to open a bank account for some months.
Other issues include repaying a 40-year old debt that Iran is seeking from the UK for an unfulfilled arms deal. The sum, around £400 million, dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the Shah of Iran paid for but never received tanks from the UK.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe timeline
However, the discussions have been overshadowed by British concerns about the fate of a number of dual citizens jailed in Iran. The most high profile is Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in March 2016 as she and her then-one-year-old daughter were about to board a flight back to the UK following a family visit.
In September 2016 she was sentenced to five years in Tehran’s Evin prison for allegedly plotting against the Iranian government. Her husband and her employer, the Thompson Reuters Foundation, maintain that the charges against her are baseless.
Last month she was informed she could face fresh charges of spreading propaganda against the regime, which supporters said could add 16 years to her sentence. However, Mr Qazanfarabadi on Sunday denied that charges had been raised against her or that her sentence might be extended as a result.