British-Iranian woman held in Iran appears in court

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is accused of planning to topple the Iranian government

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A British-Iranian woman held in Iran for months over accusations she planned the “soft toppling” of the government while visiting relatives with her young daughter has appeared in court for the first time, her family said Tuesday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, will be tried by Judge Abolghassem Salavati in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, her husband said. Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including where he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s first hearing was Monday and she was to present the name of her lawyer Tuesday for approval, husband Richard Ratcliffe said in a statement. No trial date has been set and the exact charges she faces remain unclear.

There was no immediate mention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s hearing in Iranian state media. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April while trying to fly out of the country with her toddler daughter, Gabriella, who remains in Iran with family after authorities seized her passport. The Guard has said Zaghari-Ratcliffe participated in the “design and implementation of cyber and media projects to cause the soft toppling of the Islamic Republic,” without elaborating.

“It was the fourth time she had travelled with Gabriella to see her family in Tehran,” Richard Ratcliffe said. “The idea that this time she might be part of some active plot, when she had no problems before, is not only fantasy, it is a deliberate lie.”

Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday that as an employee, “Nazanin has never dealt with Iran and the foundation has no dealings with Iran whatsoever.” The foundation focuses on providing journalism training and working on human rights issues like ending slavery and providing legal assistance to those who need it.

Since Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, hard-liners in the Islamic Republic have seized a number of dual nationals visiting the country and accused them of a variety of security-related charges. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, meaning those detained cannot receive consular assistance.

Those detained typically face trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, a closed-door tribunal which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government. It’s unclear why Iran is increasingly detaining dual nationals, but analysts and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have suggested hard-liners want concessions from the West in exchange for releasing them.

A prisoner swap in January between Iran and the US-freed Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.

Those recently detained in Iran include:

- Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian woman who is a retired professor at Montreal’s Concordia University;
- Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who has advocated for closer ties between the two countries and whose father is also held in Tehran;
- Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian and UN official in his 80s who is the father of Siamak;
- Robin Shahini, an Iranian-American detained while visiting family who previously had made online comments criticizing Iran’s human rights record; and
- Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who has done work for the American government

Still missing is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission.

While thanking Guard officials for allowing his wife access to the telephone, Richard Ratcliffe warned that she has become frail and is losing her hair while being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. He urged Iran to release his wife and allow her and their daughter to come home.

“Nazanin’s case is part of a wider pattern - a number of dual nationals have been taken in an effort to justify the fiction that there is a plot of infiltration,” her husband said.

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