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Jailed British-Iranian aid worker to face trial on security charges

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told to expect facing an espionage conviction
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in an Iran jail since 2016 (Reuters)

A detained British-Iranian aid worker sentenced to five years in jail in Iran is to face a second trial on new security charges, the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday quoted Tehran Revolutionary Court's head Musa Ghazanfarabadi as saying.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was heading back to Britain with her two-year-old daughter after a family visit.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organisation that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson discussed Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case with Iranian officials after flying to Tehran in December to try to seek her release.

"Ghazanfarabadi said the charge against Zaghari in the new case is security-related but did not say whether it was espionage or another charge," Tasnim reported.

"Zaghari is to present an attorney and then the court will convene," Ghazanfarabadi said.

Britain's Foreign Office, when approached for comment, said it would not provide a commentary on "every twist and turn".

On Monday, British media reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been told to expect another conviction after being taken to court last Saturday "for spreading propaganda against the state".

In a statement on Monday, the Thomson Reuters Foundation said it totally rejected "the renewed accusations that Nazanin is guilty of spreading propaganda" and said it continued to assert her full innocence.

In response to an urgent question in parliament on Tuesday about her situation, British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said Prime Minister Theresa May had raised all consular cases with President Hassan Rouhani in a call earlier this month.

He also said the British ambassador in Tehran had spoken to Zaghari-Ratcliffe last Sunday.

"We remain of the assessment that a private, rather than public approach is most likely to result in progress in Nazanin's case and ultimately, her release, which is all any of us want," he said.

Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, which limits the access foreign embassies have to their dual citizens held there.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have arrested at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges, according to lawyers, diplomats and relatives, Reuters reported in November.

According to former prisoners, families of current ones and diplomats, in some cases the detainees are kept to be used for a prisoner exchange with Western countries.

Iran denies the accusation.

Johnson caused outrage when he said in the parliamentary foreign affairs committee on 1 November that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching people journalism.

"If you look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it, at the very limit," Johnson told the committee.

His comments led to Zaghari-Ratcliffe being brought into court on 4 November and accused by a judge of spreading propaganda.

Johson later retracted the comments. A trip to Tehran in the weeks afterwards failed to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release

Zaghari-Ratcliffe denies the charges and her family says she has become trapped in a "political standoff" between London and Tehran.

They say she was visiting Iran to introduce her young daughter Gabriella to her parents.

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