Focus on Iran, not Boris remarks on jailed mum – Gove
MICHAEL Gove has sparked fresh questions about the fate of a British woman jailed in Iran after saying he did not know why she was in the country.
In a staunch defence of Boris Johnson – who has been criticised for making remarks that were seized on by Tehran to justify its threats to extend Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence – Mr Gove yesterday attacked attempts to shift the blame from “who is really at fault”. The country’s state TV broadcaster has claimed the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that she was “training journalists” in Iran at the time of her arrest last year amounted to an “unintended admission” of her guilt.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 39, was jailed in April 2016 on claims that she was working to overthrow the government while she was visiting her parents in Iran with her daughter Gabriella.
The British-Iranian citizen was sentenced to five years imprisonment in Evin Prison on charges which have not been made public and has been held as a political prisoner ever since.
Asked what Mrs ZaghariRatcliffe was doing in Iran, Mr Gove told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t know. One of the things I want to stress is there is no reason why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be in prison in Iran so far as any of us know.”
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant tweeted: “It is scandalous that Gove adds further ambiguity to Nazanin position by being so poorly briefed. Look, ministers, the Iranians are dastardly so you need to be ruthlessly self-disciplined or you put Britons at risk.” The Environment Secretary warned it would be a “big mistake” to focus attention on his cabinet colleague when Iran is “in the dock”.
He said: “There is an effort, somehow, to shift attention and direction away from who is really at fault here and it is the Iranian regime.”
There is “no reason” for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention and she should be released, he said. “There is nothing the Iranian regime would like more than for the attention to be shifted off them and on to us”, Mr Gove said. “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. We play their game if we point the finger at democrats who are trying to do the right thing when it is extremists who are responsible for the abuse of human rights.”
Mr Gove said Mr Johnson was “doing a great job” as Foreign Secretary and that it was “plain wrong” to find fault with democratic politicians when the Iranian regime has “blood on its hands”.
Told that Richard Ratcliffe said his wife was in Iran on holiday, Mr Gove added: “In that case, I take exactly her husband’s assurance in that regard.”
Asked if she had been training journalists, he said: “Her husband said she was there on holiday and her husband is the person who should know.”
Labour’s Sadiq Khan said Mr Johnson should resign or be sacked following his “long list of gaffes”.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose sisterin-law Rebecca Jones lives in Cardiff, and her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, insisted the training claim is incorrect with Mr Johnson later acknowledging his comments “could have been clearer” and he had no doubt “she was on holiday” in Iran.