Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'told to pack bag for prison return' over new charge

A British-Iranian mother who has been detained in Iran since 2016 has been summoned to court to face fresh charges, according to her family.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released to house arrest in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, was told to ‘pack a bag’ as she would be returning to prison after the hearing on Monday, her husband claims.

The mother-of-one is nearing the end of a five-year sentence over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. She has always denied the charges.

The summons came on Tuesday after it emerged that a UK court hearing on a debt owed to Iran, due to start on November 3, had been postponed for six months.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said: ‘We don’t know what will happen on Monday, we don’t know how far and how soon they will take forward their prison threat.

‘But we do know that the Revolutionary Guard are signalling something to the British government. We also know they are signalling this could have a long time still to run.’

The debt dispute dates back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

After he was toppled in 1979, the UK refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.

The debt hearing will now be heard in April, when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was due to be freed.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP Tulip Siddiq said the timing of the trial raised ‘serious concerns’.

The MP for Hampstead and Kilburn said in a statement: ‘Nazanin has once again been treated with utter contempt and I am extremely concerned about her future and wellbeing.

‘The timing of this development alongside the postponement of the court hearing about the UK’s historic debt to Iran raises serious concerns.

Jeremy Hunt, the previous foreign secretary, extended unprecedented diplomatic protection to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe but the British government has shown reluctance in pushing Iran for access.

‘As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,’ he said.

‘I really hope there’s something we’re not being told, as on the face of it, the Government’s response seems disastrous, just extraordinary that they won’t change course.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to show her young daughter, Gabriella, to her parents in April 2016.

She was later afforded diplomatic protection by the UK Government, which argues that she is innocent and that her treatment by Iran failed to meet obligations under international law.

Last month, she was told she would face a new trial. At the time, the Foreign Office said the new charge was ‘indefensible and unacceptable’, adding: ‘We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison.’

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said: ‘This latest recall to court is an unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable decision, which is causing enormous distress to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. It further tarnishes Iran’s reputation. Iran must end the arbitrary detention of all the dual British nationals in its detention, and allow them to return home.’

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