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Johnson gaffe could add years to British woman's sentence 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told in Iranian court his remarks were proof of 'propaganda'.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran Airport last year.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran Airport last year. Richard Ratcliffe

The husband of a jailed British woman has demanded Boris Johnson retract his recent statement to a parliamentary committee claiming she was training journalists at the time of her arrest last year - something her employer and her family insist is incorrect.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, already serving a five-year sentence in an Iranian jail, was told in an unscheduled court hearing last week that Johnson's remarks were proof she had engaged in "propaganda against the regime," an accusation that could add five years to the sentence she received for involvement in a supposed coup, an allegation she denies.

A Foreign Office statement did not correct the claim, instead saying Johnson's comments were "misrepresented," and they provide "no justifiable basis" for extending the sentence.

"The worst thing the Foreign Secretary could do is to now suddenly go quiet and to create this problem without making any clarifications," Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, told the Press Association.

"I think that's really important. You can't make a muddle and then leave it. That would be the worst of both worlds. We have been insisting that the Government clarify that she was doing nothing (in Iran). The Government has always been reluctant to say anything, but now they have they must be clear."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe said in her original trial that she was visiting Iran at the time of her arrest to introduce her baby daughter to her grandparents.

Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week: "When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.

"(Neither) Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her family has been informed about what crime she has actually committed. And that I find extraordinary, incredible," he said.

On Saturday, the Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights said: "His statement shows that Nazanin had visited the country for anything but a holiday. 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 employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, urged Johnson to correct his "serious mistake".

Chief executive Monique Villa said: "Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazanin has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into court on Saturday November 4 and accused of 'spreading propaganda against the regime'.

"This accusation from Judge Salavati can only worsen her sentence. She is obviously a bargaining chip between the UK Government and Iran and this injustice must stop as soon as possible."

A Foreign Office spokesman later said: "Last week's remarks by the Foreign Secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"While criticising the Iranian case against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Foreign Secretary sought to explain that even the most extreme set of unproven Iranian allegations against her were insufficient reason for her detention and treatment.

"The UK will continue to do all it can to secure her release on humanitarian grounds and the Foreign Secretary will be calling the Iranian foreign minister to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented."

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