Updated | Iran Protests Overshadow Case of British Mother Still Languishing in Tehran Prison

The ongoing unrest in Iran might overshadow the case of a British-Iranian mother, who was jailed in the country after she was accused of trying to lead a "soft coup" against the regime.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was heading back to Britain with her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella, after a family visit.

She is serving a five-year prison term after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical establishment, a charge she, her family and the Foundation deny.

Her case was raised several times in parliament and became a priority on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's agenda during his trip to Iran in December.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Supporters hold a photo of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a vigil for British-Iranian mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, imprisoned in Tehran outside the Iranian Embassy on January 16, 2017 in London, England. Charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Iranian government. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images


During his trip, Johnson urged Iran to free all dual nationals. It was hoped that his visit could speed up her release for Christmas. However, Iran soon said that a new case had been opened against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

All this has now been overshadowed by deadly protests that have been rocking Iran for days. Anti-government rallies began in the city of Mashhad in late December and later spread to several areas of the country. The unrest, which the country's Revolutionary Guard is trying to quell, has resulted in at least 21 deaths.

People took to the streets to protest against the country's stagnant economy, unemployment, alleged corruption and rising living costs. However, demonstrations soon turned into rallies calling for the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down or face death. The religious leader blamed "Iran's enemies" for the protests, the biggest unrest the country has witnessed since post-election mass demonstrations in 2009.

The U.K., along with other countries, called on Iran to respect human rights and allow freedom of expression.

Johnson and the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "agreed on the importance of the right of freedom of expression," the U.K. government said in a statement on January 4. "They also agreed that human rights in Iran needed to be fully respected in handling the demonstrations and undertook to monitor the situation closely."

Iran protests
An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. Protests were sparked by economic hardship, high living cost and unemployment. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told Newsweek: "We have been like many people watching events in Iran with concern - to see how things are developing, hoping people keep safe.

"What they mean for us is not clear - except that Christmas has passed and Nazanin is still inside. It has all gone quiet on our story - we have had no signals of an imminent release since December 29, and the prison seems more stretched, with trips to doctors cancelled due to lack of staff, and many people outside prison looking for their relatives on visiting days.

"But no news may simply be that - no news - we are waiting to see whether we still need to step up campaigning in a couple of weeks' time."

Little progress has been made on Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case since Johnson's December visit.

Iran tried to apply fresh charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, after Johnson incorrectly stated at the beginning of November that Nazanin was in Iran in a working capacity, training journalists. Both TRF and Richard have always maintained that she was on holiday at the time of her arrest, a central part of her defense.

Johnson, who faced mounting pressure to step down following his gaffe, has retracted his remarks since, but Iran is still using them against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The U.K. and Iran discussed the possibility of Britain repaying a decades-old debt to Tehran as a diplomatic effort to ensure Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release.

Britain owes more than £400m ($540m) to Iran for a 1970s arms deal with the then-Shah of Iran. The Shah paid the amount for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles, almost none of which were ever delivered.

Both Iran and Britain have denied claims that the the issue of the debt is linked to Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Tehran has denied allegations that it is holding the woman as a way to pressurize Britain to extinguish the debt.

Note: Updated to include Richard Ratcliffe comment.