The foreign secretary has agreed to meet the husband of a British-Iranian woman held in Tehran after it emerged that neither Dominic Raab nor the prime minister had done so since taking office, despite the latter claiming he would prioritise the issue on the campaign trail.
Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in Iran in 2016, criticised Boris Johnson on Monday, indicating that he believed the prime minister was not taking his wife’s case seriously.
Raab proposed a meeting for 2 September within days.
Johnson has come in for heavy personal criticism over the case because, while serving as foreign secretary he erroneously told parliament that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching journalists in Iran. He later corrected his mistake, but the statement was used as evidence against her.
Ratcliffe indicated that he considered the prime minister’s continued failure to personally engage with his wife’s case now that he has secured the top job an indication of how seriously he really took it.
“I have been clear with the Foreign Office that I regard having a meeting with the foreign secretary and prime minister, and when that occurs, both as markers of how important they personally regard Nazanin’s case,” he said. “And I have expressed concerns over a potential downgrading or hollowing out of approach with the change of government.
“In particular, I think it is time for the government to do something with diplomatic protection, such as at the UN, and I have asked them to work with other countries to call out hostage diplomacy. It is not just Nazanin that is affected in this way,” he said, referring principally to the case of Aras Amiri, a British Council employee imprisoned in Iran on spying charges.
“My frustration has been that all the governments involved sometimes seem to behave like the three wise monkeys,” he said. “But I want the UK to be clear: Iran or China or any other state should not be using other countries’ citizens as chess pieces in their political games. And the prime minister should take responsibility.”
His criticism of the government on Monday came as it emerged that tough new rules had been imposed on his wife and her fellow inmates in the notorious Evin prison, including restricting her contact with her young daughter and preventing her from calling her husband.
An Foreign Office spokesman said: “The government remains extremely concerned about the welfare of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and, in particular, the reports of tougher restrictions on her detention.
“We continue to regularly raise her case at senior levels, including our embassy in Tehran, pressing for consular access ,and we are in regular contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family.”
It is understood that Foreign Office officials, if not the foreign secretary, have been in contact with Ratcliffe in recent weeks.