Iranian-British woman held in Iran faces coup charge


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian-British woman detained in Iran faces charges of trying to cause the “soft toppling” of the government, a state-run news agency reported Wednesday, the latest in a series of cases in which dual nationals have been detained since last year’s nuclear deal with world powers. Her husband dismissed the charges as “extraordinary and untrue.”

IRNA’s report marks the first official acknowledgment of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard detained Zaghari-Ratcliffe on April 3 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport and later transferred her to a prison in Kerman province, according to the IRNA report. It said she had phone calls and met regularly with her family.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained while trying to fly out of the country with her toddler daughter, Gabriella, who remains in Iran with family after authorities seized her passport, according to Amnesty International.

The Guard said Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, had participated in the “design and implementation of cyber and media projects to cause the soft toppling of the Islamic Republic.” It did not elaborate. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said his wife took her daughter to visit family for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Ratcliffe described his wife as “not political … but someone with a sincere moral core and great integrity. It is to Iran’s shame that people like her are subjected to this treatment.”

“If these are indeed the allegations, this is of course farcical — the idea that there is some malevolent network headed by Nazanin and her 2-year-old daughter is nonsense,” Ratcliffe said in a statement.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation said it had “no dealings with Iran whatsoever, does not operate and does not plan to operate in the country.” 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.

“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,” foundation CEO Monique Villa said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement that it was “urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities on the reported accusations.”

It said British officials had raised the case “repeatedly and at the highest levels and will continue to do so at every available opportunity,” including contact between Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and his Iranian counterpart.

It said Britain has not been granted consular access to Zaghari-Ratcliffe because Iran does not recognize dual nationality.

Iran’s government harbors deep suspicions about both Britain and the United States, linked in part to their role in a 1953 coup. A billboard put up in Tehran before February’s parliamentary election showed the face of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II replaced with that of a camel, warning voters about “foreign meddling.”

The Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force charged with protecting the Islamic Republic, increasingly has targeted those with Western ties since the nuclear deal in which Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

A prisoner swap in January between Iran and the U.S. freed Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.

But at least two Iranian-Americans, businessman Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, remain in detention. Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese internet freedom advocate who is a U.S. permanent resident and has done work for the American government , is held as well. The whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, are still unknown.

Also held is Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian retired university professor who had been on a trip to see family and do research after the death of her husband, according to her family.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.