Fears are growing for a British woman who has been jailed in Iran, as Environment Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for saying he did not know what she was doing in the country.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has seen a medical specialist after finding lumps on her breasts and is “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, her husband, Richard, said.
The mother of one has also “expressed anger” at Boris Johnson over the “shambles” her case has become but her family said they did not believe the Foreign Secretary should quit.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained last April while on holiday and accused of trying to topple the regime in Tehran.
Mr Johnson has been heavily criticised for making remarks that were seized on by the Iranian authorities to justify its threats to extend her sentence.
The country’s state TV broadcaster claimed the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “training journalists” in Iran at the time of her arrest amounted to an “unintended admission” of her guilt.
Richard Ratcliffe said he spoke to Mr Johnson for about 20 minutes yesterday morning, during which the Cabinet minister said he was “deeply sorry for Nazanin’s suffering”.
In a statement, he also described his wife’s state of mind, saying she “again suggested she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.
The statement said: “She noted that she is very down, that she cannot handle all this. It is too much pressure, as she becomes part of hostile daily news.”
Mr Gove, a one-time ally and friend of the Foreign Secretary, tried to shift attention away from the handling of the case, claiming there was an “effort” to blame Mr Johnson. Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if he knew why Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran, Mr Gove said: “I don’t know.” Told that Mr Ratcliffe said his wife was in Iran on holiday, he added: “In that case, I take exactly her husband’s assurance in that regard.” Mr Gove insisted there was “no reason” for the detention and said: “There is nothing the Iranian regime would like more than for the attention to be shifted off them and on to us. “I think we make a big mistake if we think the right thing to do is to blame politicians in a democracy who are trying to do the right thing for the plight of a woman who has been imprisoned by a regime that is a serial abuser of human rights. “Who is in the dock here? Iran. Let’s not play their game.” Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation when she was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard last April while visiting her parents with her two year-old daughter, Gabriella. Concern over her physical and mental health is growing, and neither Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her husband has had access to their daughter, who is being looked after by her grandparents in Iran. Jeremy Corbyn called on Mr Johnson to go, saying he had been “putting our citizens at risk for long enough”, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he should resign or be sacked following his “long list of gaffes” as Foreign Secretary. Mr Khan, who succeeded Mr Johnson as London mayor, told the Andrew Marr Show: “I think it’s important that Boris Johnson clarifies the huge error he made because he’s been prayed in aid by Iranian state TV and others to say because of what he said it’s an admission on the part of the British Government as to what Nazanin’s alleged to have done.” He added: “I think he’s our Foreign Secretary whose job is diplomacy and representing the best interests of our country and if Theresa May was a strong Prime Minister she would have sacked him a long time ago.” Shadow Cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said: “It appears Gove is more interested in protecting Johnson’s job than the liberty of a British citizen in jail in Iran. “Theresa May must ensure Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe does not pay the price for her ministers’ bungling.” Asked if Mr Johnson was unsackable, Brexit Secretary David Davis told Sky News: “Why would you want to sack him? He’s a good Foreign Secretary.”