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UK considers diplomatic protection for British woman jailed in Iran

Prime minister's spokesman says move 'one option' being looked at to secure Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release from prison in Iran
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April for alleged 'sedition' (supplied)

The British government is considering granting diplomatic protection to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as part of efforts to secure her release from an Iranian prison, the prime minister's spokesman said on Monday.

Theresa May's government is doing everything it can to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the prime minister's spokesman said. One option being considered is diplomatic protection for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"I think that the foreign secretary [Boris Johnson] has obviously spoken with her husband [Richard Ratcliffe] and that is one of the options being looked at," he said.

"The prime minister has been involved with this case from the outset, she's raised it with the Iranian president on at least two occasions, the entire government is working towards securing her release as quickly as possible."

The government spokesman's comments came hours after Richard Ratcliffe said he did not think Johnson should resign for stating Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "teaching journalists" in Iran, comments which plunged her case into crisis. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Tehran while on holiday in April 2016 for alleged sedition. Johnson's comments to parliament last week have led to threats from Iran of further charges and a new trial that could double her sentence.

My remarks on the subject before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee could and should have been clearer and I acknowledge that the words I used were open to being misinterpreted

- Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary

On Monday, Johnson apologised for his earlier comments.

"My remarks on the subject before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee could and should have been clearer and I acknowledge that the words I used were open to being misinterpreted and I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I inadvertently caused them any further anguish," Johnson said.

"I reject any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity," he said. 

Ratcliffe said earlier on Monday that Johnson's remarks could have been clearer. 

"Undoubtedly what has been said by the foreign secretary has been used in the Iranian media," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I don't think it's helpful for Nazanin at this point [for Johnson to resign]."

Ratcliffe had earlier said his wife had undergone tests for breast cancer in jail and she was "at the end of her tether".

His wife has been complaining for months of sharp pains in her breasts, which has finally led to an ultrasound test on Saturday and medication being prescribed ahead of a follow-up consultation next weekend, he said.

A legal opinion prepared for human rights charity Redress on Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case said the British government could grant her diplomatic protection as she is "predominantly" a British citizen who has been denied a fair trial.

It is unclear how Tehran would view such a step which would explicitly make Zaghari-Ratcliffe's fate an issue in state-to-state relations rather than a purely consular case.

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