Boris Johnson apologises for comments on woman in Iran jail

British foreign secretary had suggested Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson: “Of course I apologise for the distress, for the suffering, that has been caused by the impression that I gave that I believed that she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday.” Photograph:  PA Wire

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson: “Of course I apologise for the distress, for the suffering, that has been caused by the impression that I gave that I believed that she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday.” Photograph: PA Wire

 

Boris Johnson has apologised for suggesting that a British woman jailed in Iran was teaching journalism when she was arrested during a visit to her Iranian relatives. Mr Johnson told MPs on Monday that the British government had no doubt that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran on holiday and that was the sole purpose of her visit.

“Of course I apologise for the distress, for the suffering, that has been caused by the impression that I gave that I believed that she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday.”

Mr Johnson was speaking after Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said she was inconsolable when she heard what the foreign secretary had told a parliamentary committee earlier this month. The Iranian authorities seized on Mr Johnson’s remarks and are considering charging Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe with further offences which could keep her imprisoned in Tehran for a number of years.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Johnson should take responsibility for the mistake he made at the select committee and acknowledge the impact of his remarks.

“We know, from the evidence of Richard Ratcliffe, that when Nazanin was told of the remarks and saw how the Iranian authorities would exploit them she became hugely distressed and upset,” she said

Mr Johnson said he had written to the foreign affairs select committee to correct his remarks and would meet Mr Ratcliffe on Wednesday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on Theresa May to sack her foreign secretary but Mr Ratcliffe said he did not believe such a move would help his wife’s plight.

Open letter

In an open letter to Mr Johnson published in the Evening Standard on Monday, Mr Ratcliffe said he had written to the foreign office two months ago, arguing that his wife, who is a dual British-Iranian citizen, should receive diplomatic protection.

“The foreign office always emphasises that Nazanin is a dual national. But her life is in Britain – she has a British home, a British job, a British husband, a British child. Given the way dual nationality works, Britain can choose to say, ‘We will protect her as though she is British.’ The Foreign Office refuses to acknowledge that she is being held because she is British and that she faces a longer sentence because of your words – my understanding of the strange reluctance to apologise,” Mr Ratcliffe wrote.

Downing Street confirmed on Monday that it was considering offering Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, which is distinct from diplomatic status or immunity. Offering diplomatic protection would escalate Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment from a consular case to a legal dispute between Britain and Iran.

Mr Johnson said he would discuss the idea of giving Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection when he meets her husband on Wednesday. Mr Johnson said he will travel to Iran before the end of the year and Mr Ratcliffe has asked to accompany him.

“He has requested to come to Tehran. I don’t know whether that will be possible but we will see what we can do,” Mr Johnson said.