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No apology from Boris Johnson, after hostage Nazanin tells him she ‘lived in the shadow of his words’

By Andrew Woodcock
PA Wire

Boris Johnson made no apology to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she told him she had “lived in the shadow of his words” during years in an Iranian jail, her husband Richard has said.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was meeting the prime minister for the first time since her release in March, and the first time since he wrongly told a parliamentary committee as foreign secretary in 2017 that she had been training journalists in Iran.

His words were used by the Tehran authorities when extending her detention as proof that Nazanin was working against the Iranian state at the time of her initial arrest in 2016, rather than visiting her parents in the country as she claimed.

Speaking after the hour-long meeting at 10 Downing Street, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq said: “She was sitting next to the prime minister and she told him very clearly and categorically that his words have had a big impact on her and that she had lived in the shadow of his words for the best part of four and a half years.

“And I had to say the prime minister looked quite shocked when she said that.

“I was really proud she did say that because she wanted to make it clear to him that she's happy now, she's grateful, she appreciates the fact that she's home now, but there was a time when his words had a big impact.”

Asked whether the PM apologised to Nazanin for his mistake, her husband Richard replied: “Not explicitly.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe did not wish to speak with reporters following the meeting, but smiled as she watched with her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella from the steps to No 10.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife had told Mr Johnson that her release from captivity “didn’t need to take six years” and asked him why it had taken so long.

He said that Nazanin told the PM: “I just want you to know that the mistaken comments in 2017 had a lasting impact... I lived with that for ages. I know it was a mistake, but it lingered.”

She revealed that even on the final day before her release, she was urged by Iranian interrogators to confess, telling her: “Just tell us now, because obviously your foreign secretary – now prime minister – revealed what you’ve been doing. You could tell us what you were really doing, it wasn’t just a holiday”.

Ms Siddiq said that it had been “difficult to hear” Nazanin go through the details of her life in custody with the prime minister.

She said that the Ratcliffes had urged Mr Johnson to answer questions on the UK government’s handling of hostage-taking incidents before an inquiry being held by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

It would be unusual for a prime minister to give evidence to a committee of this kind, but Ms Siddiq said that he had agreed to “look into that”.

Mr Ratcliffe said Nazanin had also raised concerns about new detentions of Western people in Iran, including Briton Morad Tahbaz, a Swedish man on death row and two French people picked up this week, asking the PM to “do what you can” to help them.

“Nazanin kept making the point that people who went in quite soon around the time that she went in, they are not home yet and she is home and she feels very guilty about that,” said Ms Siddiq.

“She wants them to be back as well and she can’t sit here and enjoy her life knowing there are people going through the same conditions that she went through.”

Mr Ratcliffe said there were “lessons to learn” in the handling of his wife’s six-year detention.

“It was two years ago that I stood here having seen the prime minister and I came out fairly forlorn, in the sense that we were having to battle for longer,” he said.

“I stand here now with the battle over for us.

“I think there are lessons to learn, there is a wider problem.”

But asked if he felt angry about the impact Mr Johnson’s comments had had on his wife’s incarceration, he said that his main emotion was “relief”.

“We talked about the mistakes made at the end,” he said. “It was rough at the end, and I think, when Nazanin is ready to talk about it, that is something that we need to go through.

“But no, I think, it is not like when this is over that you feel angry. Relief is what I honestly feel.”

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