Boris Johnson will meet the husband of jailed British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to discuss the possibility of her being offered “diplomatic protection” as part of efforts to secure her return from Iran.
Richard Ratcliffe believes a change in the status of his wife’s case would allow ministers to act “much more stridently” to support her.
The UK Foreign Secretary has apologised for the “distress” and “suffering” that he caused by his suggestion that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran, which has exposed her to the threat of her five-year jail sentence being doubled.
Mr Ratcliffe is expected to raise the continued coverage of Mr Johnson’s comments in the Iranian media and will seek to clarify the position on any new charges she faces.
Mr Johnson’s comments had led to calls for him to quit, but Mr Ratcliffe has said it is not in his wife’s interests for there to be any resignations, and instead the Foreign Secretary should clean up the mess he had created.
Mr Johnson told MPs on Monday there were “overwhelming” humanitarian grounds for her release and stressed that she was in Iran on holiday. Mr Johnson is expected to use the meeting to discuss Mr Ratcliffe’s request for his wife to be given diplomatic protection.
Under international law, diplomatic protection status could see the case raised to the level of a state-to-state dispute between the UK and Iran rather than a consular matter concerning an individual.
The UK Foreign Secretary has sought advice from officials to determine whether conferring the status would help, including what impact it would have on the support currently being provided and the representations already being made on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s behalf.
The meeting will also discuss concerns about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health and Mr Johnson’s plan to travel to Iran before the end of the year. Also at the meeting in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London will be Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, who has met Mr Ratcliffe before and visited Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family in Tehran, and FCO consular officials who have been providing ongoing support to the family.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she tried to leave Tehran with her young daughter Gabriella, following a trip to see family in Iran. The 38-year-old dual-national charity worker was accused of plotting to topple the regime, which she denies, and was later sentenced to five years in prison.
Mr Ratcliffe hopes to accompany the Mr Johnson on his forthcoming trip to Tehran. He said on Monday: “I think it is really important that he is making very clear signals that he is going to Iran, and that he goes to Iran and raises Nazanin’s case as a top priority.
“It is also important that I can go with him. Now that is not entirely in his gift, but it is something that we discussed privately and we will discuss again.
“It is important because of the signal it sends, because I can go to prison and he can come with me.
“That is very clear for an Iranian audience that Nazanin is not to be just left and abandoned and the British government is right behind her.”