TEHRAN – A British Iranian dual national held in Tehran in an internationally criticized espionage case faces a new charge, Iranian state television announced Tuesday, raising fears she could be forced to return to prison following her temporary release.
The report, citing an unnamed official, did not elaborate beyond saying that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared Tuesday morning before a branch of the country’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran, where she was first sentenced to prison on murky espionage charges in 2017.
Calls to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s attorney and the court were not immediately returned. Her husband said early Wednesday that the new charge “hit us hard.”
“We had long been warning the government that the closer we got to the end of Nazanin’s sentence, the more there was a risk of Iran opening again a second case to threaten holding her more,” Richard Ratcliffe said in a statement.
He said his wife was expected back in court Sunday before Judge Abolghassem Salavati. The judge is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison.
The new indictment comes as Britain and Iran negotiate the release of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) held by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution soon installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.
Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is linked to the repayment deal. But a prisoner exchange that freed four American citizens in 2016 saw the U.S. pay a similar sum to Iran the same day of their release. Richard Ratcliffe said Wednesday that “Nazanin’s arrest always was about the debt" from the tank sale.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe this spring was granted temporary release from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic after serving nearly all of her five-year sentence, raising hopes she would soon return home to Britain.