Iran on Tuesday convicted another British-Iranian on espionage charges, prompting the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to accuse the UK government of shirking its responsibility towards detained dual nationals.
Iran’s judiciary said it had sentenced London businessman Anousheh Ashouri, 65, to 12 years for allegedly passing information to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, which the Telegraph understands brings to seven the number held by Tehran with links to Britain.
They include Mr Ashouri, charity worker Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, British Council worker Aras Amiri, whose 10 year sentence for spying was upheld today, academic Kameel Ahmady, and three others who have not made their cases public.
Mr Ashouri has been detained since August 2017 but was sentenced this week by a court in Tehran, which accused him of “being connected to Mossad and receiving money from them as an informer.” The judiciary did not make public the evidence against him.
His daughter Eilka, an actress living in London, said last night that her father, a businessman who has lived on-and-off in the UK since the age of 17, was in Iran visiting his mother when he was detained.
“My father has nothing to do with politics and told us not to get involved in politics," she said, adding that her father had run a building supplies company before he retired.
"He is a peaceful, easy-going person who was looking forward to his retirement and going on cruises. We don’t know why the announcement has been made. It is a chess game and they decided to move the piece.”
She told The Times: "He is not able to see a lawyer or the evidence against him. It is preposterous to suggest he is a spy.”
She said his appeal had already been rejected.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Richard Ratcliffe questioned whether the UK had “any idea" how to respond to an increasingly belligerent Iran, which has demonstrated its willingness to use dual nationals as pawns in its standoff with the West.
“It is really not clear if the UK has any idea how to respond to this,” he said. “A responsible government does not leave ordinary people to fend for themselves in cases of state hostage-taking. How much worse does it need to get?
“The Iranians are signalling an increasing hostility these days – from the renewed abuse of Nazanin, with last month’s transfer to a mental hospital in chains and now banning child visits, to the new trumped-up sentences for Aras, the arrest of Kameel and now Anousheh.”
Mr Ratcliffe believes the Islamic republic is using them as diplomatic leverage as tensions with the UK escalate.
He said he would be meeting Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, for the first time on Monday to discuss his wife’s case and the others.
James Tyson, Miss Amiri’s fiance, levelled similar accusations against British officials for “offering platitudes while remaining utterly blind to their own responsibility”.
Miss Amiri, 33, a UK resident of 10 years who was arrested last year while visiting her ailing grandmother in Iran, worked for the British Council, which is partly funded by the government, on arts projects.
Mr Tyson, who also works for the British Council, said officials initially refused to meet to discuss the case and claimed they could not help Miss Amiri because she was an Iranian citizen.
He blamed both the Iranian and UK governments for failing to enter into dialogue. Writing in the Guardian over the weekend, he said: “She’s caught in the middle of two global powers who refuse, or don’t know how to talk to each other.”
Sir Alan Duncan, a former foreign minister, in his July resignation letter cited the British government’s failure to negotiate a release for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is eligible for parole after serving half of her five-year-sentence.
Sir Alan criticised Boris Johnson’s handling of the case when he was foreign secretary: "I remain deeply upset that some fruitful discussions I had initiated about the possible release of Nazanin Ratcliffe were brought to such an abrupt halt,” he wrote.
The case involving Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s has been widely cited as one of Mr Johnson’s most damaging episodes at the Foreign Office, after he erroneously told a Commons committee she was involved in training journalists.
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An FCO spokesperson said: “We have been supporting the family of a British-Iranian dual national since his detention and our embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access, The treatment of all dual nationals detained in Iran is a priority and we raise their cases at the most senior levels.
“We urge Iran to let them be reunited with their families.”