Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was convicted of sedition and jailed for five years in September 2016, was due for release in March 2021.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) embracing her daughter Gabriella in Damavand following her release from prison for three days, August 23, 2018
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) embracing her daughter Gabriella in Damavand following her release from prison for three days, August 23, 2018 (AFP)

Iran's state television has announced that British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is facing a new charge.

"The 15th chamber of the Islamic Revolutionary Court summoned Nazanin Zaghari this morning with her lawyer... to notify them of a new indictment," said the state TV website Iribnews on Tuesday, which cited "an informed source" and gave no further details. 

The report did not elaborate beyond saying that Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared on Tuesday morning before a branch of the country’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran, where she was first sentenced to prison on murky espionage charges in 2017.

Calls to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s attorney and the court were not immediately returned.

"Indefensible and unacceptable"

Britain's foreign office said that Iran bringing new charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe was unacceptable and that she must not be returned to prison.

"Iran bringing new charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is indefensible and unacceptable. We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison,” a foreign office spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The new indictment comes as Britain and Iran negotiate the release of some $530 million held by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution soon installed the clerically overseen system that endures today. Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is linked in any way to the repayment deal.

However, British daily The Guardian reported on Friday that UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace had for the first time acknowledged he was "actively" seeking to repay a debt to Iran to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other Iranian-British detainees.

Prisoners released amid pandemic

Zaghari-Ratcliffe this spring was granted temporary release from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic after serving nearly all of her five-year sentence, raising hopes she would soon return home to Britain.

Iran has reported more than 391,000 cases and 22,542 deaths. Tens of thousands of inmates were released as Iran tried to curb the spread of the virus in its crowded prisons.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case has stirred tensions between Iran and Britain, where on Tuesday her local London lawmaker, Tulip Siddiq, tweeted confirmation that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been taken to court and would face another trial on Sunday.

“I know many people are concerned about her welfare and I’ll keep everyone updated when we have more information,” Siddiq wrote.

Bargaining chips?

Iran does not recognise dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance. A UN panel has described “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran, which Tehran denies.

Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran say hard-liners in the Islamic Republic’s security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was scooped up at the Tehran airport when trying to return to Britain with her toddler daughter in April 2016.

Her family insists she had traveled to Iran to visit family, vigorously denying the charges that she was plotting the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government. At the time, Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

READ MORE: The UK government has not done enough for Nazanin Zahgari-Ratcliffe

Source: TRTWorld and agencies