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British-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces new charges in Tehran court

A week after the end of a five-year sentence, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe attended a hearing over accusations of 'propaganda against the system'
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was recently released from a five-year sentence for espionage, a charge she has consistently denied (MEE/family handout)

British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in a Tehran court on Sunday to face charges of "propaganda against the system," a week after she finished serving a five-year sentence imposed after a trial on other accusations, her lawyer said. 

"The hearing took place in a very calm and good atmosphere, in the presence of my client," Hojjat Kermani told news agencies, adding that the judgement would be handed down at a later and unspecified date.

"The final defence was taken. Legally, the court should announce the verdict in a week, but it is up to the judge. I am very hopeful that she will be acquitted."

'I am very hopeful that she will be acquitted'

- Zaghari-Ratcliffe's lawyer

The Iranian judiciary was not immediately available to comment.

According to Kermani, the 42-year-old dual national was prosecuted for "propaganda against the system for having participated in a rally in front of the Iranian embassy in London" in 2009.

"Given the evidence presented by the defence and the legal process, and the fact that my client has also served her previous sentence, I hope that she will be acquitted," the lawyer added.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said later on Sunday that it was unacceptable that Iran was pursuing a second case against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"It is unacceptable that Iran has chosen to continue the second case against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe," Raab said in a statement.

"She has been put through a cruel and disgraceful ordeal by the calculating behaviour of the Iranian government. This must end."

Partial release

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment, accusations she strenuously denied.

She served out most of her five-year sentence in Tehran's Evin prison. She was released from prison last March at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, with her movements restricted.

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Her ankle tag was removed earlier this month, giving her more freedom of movement and allowing her to visit relatives in Tehran, but she remains barred from leaving the country.

Her husband, Richard, and their six-year-old daughter, Gabriella, held a vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in central London on 8 March demanding she be allowed to return to the United Kingdom.

He tried to deliver an Amnesty International petition signed by 160,000 supporters calling for his wife's release, but was turned away.

Raab welcomed the removal of the ankle tag but said Iran continued to put Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family through a "cruel and an intolerable ordeal".

In a call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on 10 March, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to her family.

Iranian media reported that during the call, Rouhani raised the issue of a £400m ($557m) historical debt, which Tehran says Britain owes the Islamic Republic in capital and interest for a 1970s arms deal with the then-shah of Iran.