December 22, 2017 / 8:51 AM / 10 months ago

Iran justice ministry says no decision yet on British-Iranian aid worker

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of Iran’s justice ministry was quoted on Friday as saying Tehran would decide the fate of a detained British-Iranian aid worker sentenced to five years in jail and that he could not confirm Western media reports relating to her case.

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella in an undated photograph handed out by her family. Ratcliffe Family Handout via REUTERS

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was heading back to Britain with her two-year-old daughter after a family visit.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told the Guardian newspaper and other British media on Thursday that her lawyer had said that her case had been marked as being eligible for early release.

“Iran’s judiciary cannot confirm any of the claims in Western media about this case,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Friday quoted Gholamhossein Esmaili, the head of the justice department in Tehran province, as saying.

“When a decision is made, it will be announced by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary or through diplomatic channels.”

British foreign minister Boris Johnson traveled to Iran this month to lobby for her release.

Esmaili was also quoted by Tasnim as saying that a second case had been brought against Zaghari-Ratcliffe - the first such acknowledgement from a justice ministry official.

Her family said in October that the second case carried charges that could bring mean another 16 years in prison, including joining and receiving money from organizations working to overthrow the Islamic Republic and attending a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London.

“Besides serving her current sentence, she has also another ongoing case against her in court... We do not know if she would be found guilty or not,” Esmaili was quoted as saying.

Tasnim said Esmaili also dismissed reports of a swap deal, but did not make clear which reports he was referring to.

The release of dual national prisoners in Iran in recent years has been mainly done through prisoner swaps.

Iran refuses to recognize dual nationals and denies them access to consular assistance. It has arrested at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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