Press TV – Nazanin Zaghari is an Iranian citizen who is currently serving a five-year jail term in Tehran on charges of espionage for the UK. Iran’s intelligence authorities arrested Zaghari, who also holds a British passport, at Imam Khomeini International Airport in April 2016 as she was about to board a plane to London.
The 39-year-old mother-of-one was arrested after it became clear that she had run an illegal course to recruit and train people for the BBC Persian Television, a channel Iran deems is an extension of Britain’s anti-Iran propaganda machine.
Ever since Zaghari’s arrest, British officials have provided several opposing accounts into who she really is and what she was doing during her stay in Iran.
A mother and wife on vacation
London first insisted that the double citizen, who works for Thomson Reuters Foundation, was in Iran for holidays.
The British media tried to add an emotional aspect to her case by constantly running stories about Zaghari’s husband and their only child.
But the public was not convinced.
That claim was proven problematic after then British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson admitted in 2017 that she was indeed in Iran to train journalists for unspecified purposes.
“When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it,” Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Committee in November 2017.
London tried to pass off Johnson’s remark as a simple “slip of tongue.”
The gaffe prompted a statement from Thomson Reuters Foundation, denying Johnson’s description of Zaghari.
“Nazanin has been working at the Thomson Reuters Foundation for the past four years as a project coordinator in charge of grants applications and training, and had no dealing with Iran in her professional capacity,” the London-based organization, which operates independently of Reuters News, said at the time.
After Johnson’s remarks, which were widely viewed to an unintentional confession into Zaghari’s real mission in Tehran, the Western media have mostly referred to her as an aid worker.
This is while her employer, Thomson Reuters, has already made it clear that it is in no way involved in business with Iran.
“The Thomson Reuters Foundation has no dealings with Iran whatsoever, does not operate and does not plan to operate in the country,” the foundation said in an announcement.
This means any suggestion that she was in Iran on a humanitarian mission doesn’t hold value.
London’s contradictory explanations about Zaghari’s mission took an unexpected turn this month, after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that London had decided to give Zaghari diplomatic protection “as part of the Government’s continuing efforts to secure her release.”
Diplomatic protection is a rarely-used tool under international law, which gives a country the right to challenge another state over the treatment of one of its nationals or companies.
It is very different from diplomatic immunity, which applies to accredited diplomats and provides them with safe passage. It is also different from consular assistance, where a state offers assistance to its nationals in another country.
Iran has rejected the move by London as “illegal,” with Iranian Ambassador to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad arguing that the protection meant nothing as Iran does not recognize dual nationality.
Interestingly, Zaghari only had her Iranian passport with her when she was taken into custody.
London’s efforts ‘extremely unusual’: Ex-UK diplomat
Meanwhile, Craig John Murray, a British former diplomat who once served as the country’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, wrote in an article on Monday that if anything, the London’s “unusual” attention to Zaghari’s issue has given more credibility to Iran’s case against her.
The former diplomat writes that even without the diplomatic protection, the UK government’s interest in the case had been “extremely unusual.”
“That the UK has now ‘adopted’ the case, raising it to the level of a state dispute, is something not just unusual, but which I don’t think has happened since the First World War,” he said.
Murray noted that the British government usually avoids getting involved in cases about its dual national citizens simply because doing so would overwhelm its consulates around the world.
According to Sky TV, Britain has not afforded diplomatic protection to anyone in living memory prior to Zaghari.
The last time the UK government is known to have used this power is in 1951, in support of a British-Iranian oil company.
The move elevates the case of the Iranian citizen from a consular issue to a formal matter between Iran and the UK and also opens up a number of legal and diplomatic routes.