Britain says Johnson comments do not justify more Iran charges against jailed aid worker

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Monday that comments by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about jailed Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should not be used by the Islamic Republic to bring additional charges against her.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, October 24 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

Johnson told the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee last Wednesday that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching people journalism, a statement that the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity organization for which she works, said was incorrect.

“Last week’s remarks by the Foreign Secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said.

“While criticizing 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.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager, is serving a five-year jail sentence after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment.

She was brought again into court on Saturday, three days after Johnson’s remarks, and accused by a judge of “spreading propaganda against the regime”.

“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,” Monique Villa, Thomson Reuters Foundation chief executive, said in a statement.

“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 4 November.”

The charges against Nazanin were denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Tulip Siddiq, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson had failed to retract his comments, which she said had undermined efforts to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

“By suggesting Nazanin was in Iran ‘teaching people journalism’, Boris Johnson has endangered the cause to secure her release,” Siddiq, who is the lawmaker for the area where Zaghari-Ratcliffe lived in London, said in an emailed statement.

“The Foreign Secretary’s failure to retract his comments to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is unforgivable,” Siddiq said. “His comments were both untrue and unhelpful to her case.”

The Iranian Embassy in London could not be reached for comment.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Cooney