Boris Johnson’s comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘enabled a propaganda campaign’ against the imprisoned British-Iranian national, her husband has said.
The comments, which were made when Johnson was foreign secretary, wrongly stated to a House of Commons committee in 2017 that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison on spying charges, had been in Iran to teach journalists. He was forced to apologise.
Asked about this during the BBC leadership debate, Johnson denied that his words made any difference.
Referring to the remarks, Zhaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard 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 during the debate in a section where a member of the public asked the politicians: “Do words have consequences?”
Debate chair Emily Maitlis directed the question to Johnson and brought up his foreign office mistake.
MORE: ‘Do words have consequences?’: The moment Boris Johnson was made to squirmJohnson responded first that we should “pay tribute” to the foreign office for its work in difficult cases such as this. He then denied havign had any impact on the situation with his comments. “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 …”
His own comments, he said, didn’t 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.”
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.
Her five-year-old daughter Gabriella has not been allowed to leave Iran following her mother’s arrest and is living with her grandparents.
Zaghari Ratcliffe’s five-year sentence is unfolding 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 Tory leadership race, granted Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection in March, but Tehran refuses to acknowledge her dual UK-Iranian nationality.
Asked if 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.”
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.