Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Boris Johnson Will Urge Iran to Free All Dual Nationals

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will urge Iran to free a British-Iranian woman detained in the country. He is due to travel to Tehran in the next few days.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker and a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), was arrested in 2016 as she tried to return to the U.K. after vising her family, according to her supporters.

The 38-year-old mother from London, held in Tehran's Evin prison, was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of trying to lead a soft coup to topple the regime.

"The Foreign Secretary will urge the Iranians to release dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so," a foreign office spokesman said.

The trip will be only the third by a British foreign minister to Iran in the last 14 years, and takes place against a complex backdrop of historical, regional and bilateral tensions.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not the only dual national being held in Iran, but has become the most high profile after Johnson said she had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in April 2016, in remarks critics said could have prompted Iran to extend her sentence.

Johnson incorrectly stated that Ratcliffe was "simply teaching people journalism" in Iran when she was arrested.

Both TRF and Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard, maintain that she was on holiday at the time of her arrest, a central part of her defense.

Iran exploited Johnson's comments in court as offering new evidence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe and why she was in the Islamic Republic at the time of her arrest. She was accused of engaging in "propaganda against the regime" and could face 16 years in jail.

Richard Ratcliffe told Newsweek: "Nazanin went on holiday. It has long felt that the case is political and it is not the only one. She is being used as a bargaining chip to pressure the U.K. government in different ways."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is due to appear in court on December 10.

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. U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is due to travel to Iran where he will urge authorities to free the British mother. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Johnson has since apologized for his comments and has partly retracted them.

There were calls for his resignation - something which threatened to destabilize Prime Minister Theresa May's minority government at a crucial point in Britain's Brexit negotiations.

Earlier this year, 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, Reuters explained.

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

Johnson's visit will test his ability to navigate a political landscape littered with potential pitfalls. Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution turned it into a pariah state for most of the West and many Middle Eastern neighbors.

"This visit comes at a crucial time for the Gulf region and provides an opportunity to discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen, the future of the Iran nuclear deal and the current volatility in the Middle East," the spokesman said.