The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has insisted that comments made by Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary “enabled a propaganda campaign” against her by Iran.
Richard Ratcliffe directly contradicted claims by Mr Johnson in the Tory leadership TV debate that his remarks as foreign secretary had no bearing on the fate of the mother-of-one, who is in prison in Iran on spying charges.
Mr Johnson was forced to apologise in 2017 after wrongly stating to a House of Commons committee that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran to teach journalists.
Referring to the remarks, Mr Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Of course they had consequences.
“The main difference they had was, obviously, they enabled a propaganda campaign that was run against Nazanin.”
He added: “It was used to justify a second court case.
“And has been used to discredit her ever since.”
The issue came up in the Tory leadership TV debate on Tuesday when Mr Johnson was asked if he worries his words might do “more harm than good” in relation to his comments about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Mr Johnson said: “Well actually I think it’s very, very important that in this context we should pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Office in doing what they can to get out very difficult consular cases, but in seeking to point the finger either at me or at anybody in the UK for the incarceration of Nazanin or anybody else… I have the deepest sympathy clearly for Nazanin and her family. But in pointing the finger at our side…”
Interrupted by chair Emily Maitlis, who said “words have consequences” – referring to a question asked by a member of the public – Mr Johnson said: “Well actually in that case it didn’t, I think, make any difference.
“But if you point the finger at the UK, all you are doing is exculpating those who are truly responsible which is the Iranian revolutionary guard and that is reality and people should realise what this regime is up to, and that is where the responsibility lies.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on April 3 2016 at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran as she prepared to board a plane back to the UK after visiting relatives and is serving a five-year sentence in the notorious Evin Prison.
She and her husband have a five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who has not been allowed to leave Iran following her mother’s arrest and is living with her grandparents.
Her detention is now also against a backdrop of heightened tensions over an attack against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is also in the race to become the next prime minister, granted Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection in March, but Tehran refuses to acknowledge her dual UK-Iranian nationality.
Asked if Mr Johnson had made the situation worse as foreign secretary, Mr Hunt told the BBC: “I think that is for Richard Ratcliffe to comment on.
“I think it would be incredibly unseemly when we have an innocent woman in prison, separated from her five-year-old daughter, for there to be any kind of point scoring by candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe began a third hunger strike on Saturday, while her husband has set up camp outside the Iranian embassy in London, vowing not to eat for the duration of her protest.