Boris Johnson's 'extraordinary' blunder could keep a British woman in an Iranian jail

  • Boris Johnson accused of ‘extraordinary’ blunder as a British woman in Iran faces a five-year jail sentence as a result of a false claim he made.
  • The foreign secretary told MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran last year because she had been teaching journalism.
  • An Iranian court used his words as evidence against her
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employers have said Johnson’s claim was totally false.


LONDON — Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today been accused of a blunder which could result in a British woman jailed in Iran facing five more years behind bars. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year prison sentence in Iran for reasons not yet known after she arrested in Tehran airport in April 2016.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has repeatedly insisted that she was on holiday in Iran when arrested.

However, last week Johnson told a parliamentary committee that she had been detained in Iran because she had been “simply teaching people journalism.”

The foreign secretary’s words were used as evidence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe when she appeared in an Iranian court on Saturday, despite her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, dismissing Johnson’s claim.

The Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights said on Sunday: “For months it was claimed that Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested.

“Mr Johnson’s statement has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Radcliffe, criticised Johnson in an interview with the Times newspaper

He said: “There is a direct link between Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday and Judge Salavati, the harshest judge that you can find hearing her case on Saturday, where she is now facing a double sentence.

“[His] misstep saying she was training journalists not that she was on holiday — contradicting what we have said all along — is being used for propaganda purposes to justify holding her.”

Johnson has come in for a barrage of criticism from across the political spectrum for the blunder.

Sir Paul Jenkins, former head of the government’s legal department, in a tweet described it as “extraordinary even by the grotesque standards” of the foreign secretary. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation chief executive, Monique Villa, urged the the Conservative minister to “correct the serious mistake” in claims he made to MPs last week.

“I once again urge Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to immediately correct the serious mistake he made at the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament,” Villa said in a statement.

“On 1 November he said that Nazanin ‘was training journalists’ in Iran. I have immediately clarified that this is not right as she is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where she is project manager in my Media Development team.

“Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazani has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into Court on Saturday 4 November and accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime’.”

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