UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

Richard Ratcliffe (R) urged Boris Johnson to make sure the UK is “tougher” with the regime, while pushing for the release of his detained wife. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 25 January 2020

UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

  • Richard Ratcliffe says his jailed wife is ‘being held hostage’ by Tehran
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman jailed by Tehran over charges of espionage has urged the UK to be “tougher” with the regime.

Richard Ratcliffe made the comments after a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday. 

Ratcliffe said there had been “no breakthrough” in discussions between the two nations to secure her release, and his wife was being used as a “chess piece” by Iran. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.” She and her family maintain that she was in the country to visit relatives.Speaking outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, Ratcliffe told reporters that the meeting had been warm in nature, but hinted that the government was not doing enough.

“The prime minister was there, the foreign secretary was there, (we) talked quite openly about having tried a number of different things to get Nazanin home,” he said. 

“We pressed him (Johnson) to be brave. I want him to push forward on improving relations. You need to be imposing a cost on Iran for holding innocent people as leverage, you’ve got to be brave there as well. The government doesn’t always say it, but in my view, Nazanin is being held hostage.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Arab News.

The Downing Street meeting comes ahead of an impending court case over a long-term trade dispute between the UK and Iran, with London accused of owing Tehran debts over an arms deal from the 1970s.

Labour Party MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents the parliamentary seat of Hampstead and Kilburn, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family live, called on the government to settle the debt in order to help facilitate her release.

But MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, told the BBC that the issue was “extraordinarily difficult.” 

He suggested that setting a precedent of capitulating on legal disputes in return for the release of UK nationals could entice foreign governments and groups to threaten other UK citizens abroad. “The risk that would pose to British citizens traveling abroad would be very considerable,” he said.

Johnson was blamed by many in 2017, when he was foreign secretary, for having worsened Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation in Iran when, in a statement to the House of Commons, he claimed that he had been briefed that she was in Tehran training journalists. 

Despite claims from other politicians, her family and her employer, the Thompson Reuters Foundation, that he had been misinformed, the statement was subsequently used as evidence against her in court.


12-year-old infected with COVID-19 dies in Belgium

Updated 8 min 31 sec ago

12-year-old infected with COVID-19 dies in Belgium

  • Fatality from the virus at such a young age “is a very rare occurrence,” said government spokesman Dr. Emmanuel Andre
  • Although serious COVID-19 infections are uncommon among the young, some exceptional cases have been taken to hospital intensive-care wards

BRUSSELS: A 12-year-old girl confirmed infected with COVID-19 has died in Belgium, health officials said Tuesday.
Fatality from the virus at such a young age “is a very rare occurrence,” said government spokesman Dr. Emmanuel Andre, adding that her death “shook us.”
The girl had a fever for three days before her death, and tested positive for COVID-19, said another spokesman, Steven Van Gucht.
The government gave no other details, notably not saying whether she had any other underlying health problems.
The girl’s school, located in the city of Ghent, issued a statement about the “sad news” and expressing condolences to the girl’s family.
It added that the girl, whom it did not name, had not been at the school since March 13, just before a nationwide shutdown.
It was the first death of a child in the coronavirus crisis in Belgium, which has now recorded 705 deaths according to the latest official toll.
Last week, France reported the death of a 16-year-old girl from coronavirus in the greater Paris region.
Although serious COVID-19 infections are uncommon among the young, some exceptional cases have been taken to hospital intensive-care wards, as US health authorities have pointed out.
Belgium’s toll on Tuesday represented a jump of nearly 200 fatalities from that given the previous day, which stood at 513.
It comprised 98 deaths recorded in the preceding 24-hour period, plus another 94 deaths over previous days that had not been counted in the national tally, Andre said.
The small EU country, with a population of 11.4 million, now has 12,775 cases of persons tested positive for COVID-19, of whom 4,920 have been hospitalized, including 1,021 in intensive care.
Hospitals in Brussels, the Dutch-speaking province of Limburg and the surroundings of Charleroi and Mons are now confronted with “a more complicated situation” as beds fill up, Andre said.

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