A new trial in Iran to present fresh charges against a British-Iranian woman who has been held in the country since 2016 was postponed at the last minute on Sunday, her husband said.
The woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, was already sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government — charges that she, her family and international rights groups have long denied. According to Iranian state television, she and her lawyer were told Tuesday that she was facing a “new indictment.” The charge was later revealed to be “spreading propaganda against the regime,” said her husband, Richard Ratcliffe.
Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe found out that the hearing had been delayed when the official car meant to take her to court did not arrive Sunday morning as expected, Mr. Ratcliffe said, adding that her lawyer was not informed until he arrived at the court.
No reason was given for the delay, though the charges are not thought to have been dropped. “There is no way of knowing if the second court case will come back, but there is no evidence that it has been canceled,” Mr. Ratcliffe said Sunday in an interview. “Most likely it is a stay of execution.”
Mr. Ratcliffe suggested the case had been postponed in response to efforts by British Embassy employees to attend the hearing.
“We welcome the deferral of this groundless court hearing, and call on Iran to make Nazanin’s release permanent so that she can return to her family in the U.K.,” a spokeswoman at Britain’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.
Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention has strained the already fraught diplomatic ties between Britain and Iran. Mr. Ratcliffe, who has persistently campaigned for his wife’s release, has said that he believes she is being used as collateral in a decades-old dispute over a debt owed to Iran by Britain for the nondelivery of an order of tanks in the 1970s.
Tulip Siddiq, a member of the British Parliament who represents Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s area of London, said Sunday on Twitter that she was “being treated like a bargaining chip.”
Mr. Ratcliffe echoed that assessment, saying his family seemed to be caught in “a game of cat and mouse that could go on and on and on.”
Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she prepared to travel home to Britain after visiting family. A program director for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she was eventually tried on sedition charges and sent to Evin Prison, Iran’s most notorious penitentiary.
She was granted temporary release in March because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the prison, and has since been staying at her parents’ home in Tehran.
Her furlough was extended indefinitely in May, but she must wear an ankle tag that limits her movement — something not required of any other political prisoner in Iran, according to her husband. Iran announced in March that it planned to pardon thousands of prisoners, including some charged with political crimes. Officials have not said whether Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be among them, though she meets the announced criteria for clemency.
An Iranian state television website made public news of the additional charges this past week, citing an unidentified official. Mr. Ratcliffe said on Sunday that he had been expecting a new case to be filed against his wife, though the timing came as a surprise.
“The closer we get to the end of her sentence, the more likely it was that they would run a second court case to keep her detained,” he said. “They are giving a serious warning that if they need to, they will add more years onto her sentence.”
Mr. Ratcliffe said that he spoke to his wife on Sunday, and that she had expressed frustration at being stuck in a “seemingly endless game.”
“I just wanted to scream out loud for 10 minutes, or to bang my head against the wall — just to let it out,” Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe said in the phone call, according to her husband. “I really can’t take it any more. They have all these games, and I have no power in them.”