New case of detained British-Iranian dual citizen adjourned

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A British Iranian dual national detained for years in Tehran was taken to court on new sedition charges on Monday, her husband said, the latest twist in a case that has long stirred an international outcry.

The brief session, in which Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not allowed to offer a defense, was adjourned with no date set for the next hearing, her husband said in a statement.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe had already served most of her five-year sentence on widely condemned espionage charges when she was granted temporary release and allowed to remain indefinitely at her parents’ Tehran home because of the coronavirus pandemic this spring, raising hopes for her return home to London.

But in a setback that comes as Britain and Iran negotiate a decades-old debt dispute, a Tehran revolutionary court announced fresh charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime,” presenting the same evidence used to convict Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2016, according to her husband. Official Iranian outlets did not immediately report Monday’s court session.

In a positive development, Zaghari-Ratcliffe returned to house arrest after the trial and does not have to spend the night in jail as feared, his statement added.

Presiding in the trial is Judge Abolghassen Salavati, who has a reputation for imposing harsh sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison.

“We await the next escalation,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe wrote. “We do not expect it to be kind.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 when she tried to board a flight home after a family vacation in Tehran with her younger daughter. An employee at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government — which she vehemently denies — and sent to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Her detention has fueled tensions between Britain and Iran, which are negotiating the release of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) held by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution soon installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

In what a U.N. panel has described as an “emerging pattern,” Iran has arrested dozens of dual citizens on murky espionage charges in recent years. Analysts and rights groups accuse hardliners in the Islamic Republic’s security agencies of using detainees as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, which Tehran denies.

Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, depriving prisoners like Zaghari-Ratcliffe of consular assistance and diplomatic access.

“The use of the court process as a negotiating tactic by the Revolutionary Guard remains deeply traumatic for Nazanin and the rest of us,” Ratcliffe said.

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