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Boris Johnson failed to apologise to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she described the “massive impact” his false claim had on her six-year detention in Iran.
The Prime Minister was seemingly “shocked” after the British-Iranian dual national told him she had lived for years in the “shadow of his words” during their first meeting since her release.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and husband, Richard Ratcliffe, took their daughter, Gabriella, and constituency MP, Tulip Siddiq, to the discussions in Downing Street on Friday.
The mother was freed in March along with fellow detainee Anoosheh Ashoori after the UK agreed to settle a historic £400 million debt dating to the 1970s.
But Mr Johnson had been accused of lengthening her ordeal when, as foreign secretary in 2017, he wrongly claimed she had been training journalists at the time of her arrest in 2016.
Speaking to reporters in Downing Street, Mr Ratcliffe said his wife challenged the Prime Minister on “why did it take so long” to secure her release.
She also told him the “massive impact” his comments had on her, even saying the Iranian authorities brought Mr Johnson’s words up during interrogation shortly before her release.
Asked if the Prime Minister apologised, Mr Ratcliffe responded: “Not specifically.”
The charity worker’s meeting with Mr Johnson was their first since she was finally freed from Tehran, and since he wrongly claimed she had been training journalists at the time of her arrest in 2016.
Ms Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said Mr Johnson “looked quite shocked” when her constituent challenged him.
It was an honour to welcome Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella to Downing Street today. We discussed the UK’s work to secure the release of unfairly detained nationals in Iran and I commended Nazanin for her incredible bravery during her ordeal. pic.twitter.com/aBQeXcNVWu
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) May 13, 2022
“I was really proud of Nazanin. She was sitting next to the Prime Minister, and she told him very clearly and categorically that his words had 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,” Ms Siddiq said.
“I have to say the Prime Minister looked quite shocked, I think, when she said that, but 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 is home now, but there was a time when the words had a big impact.”
Mr Johnson said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s treatment at the hands of the regime in Tehran had been “odious” and discussed classified details about how he had helped with her release, an individual familiar with their discussions told the PA news agency, but the Prime Minister did not apologise.
Mr Johnson later tweeted to say he “commended Nazanin for her incredible bravery during her ordeal”.
Interesting meeting with the PM and my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, where we asked why it took so long to pay the debt and bring her home.
— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) May 13, 2022
Ms Siddiq told PA that her constituent “didn’t mince words” with the Prime Minister, saying his comments had “haunted her for four-and-a-half years”.
But Mr Ratcliffe said it was not an “abrasive meeting” and that it was “undeniable” that Mr Johnson was sorry for the impact his mistake had had, having publicly said he was sorry “if I inadvertently caused any further anguish”.
Instead, the family pushed for the Prime Minister to give evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the Government’s handling of the case.
“I did mean it when I said, please do try and give evidence. He said he would look at it,” Mr Ratcliffe, who underwent hunger strikes during the years spent campaigning for his wife’s release, said.
They also pressed the Prime Minister during the meeting, which lasted around an hour, to help free the other Iranian dual nationals still being held in detention.
“Then we talked really about the risks for others. It’s over for us. We’re home and you can see I’m lighter and happier and fatter again, like life is picking up but there are others left in harm’s way,” Mr Ratcliffe said.
He added that there remained “lessons to learn”, including “some mistakes made at the end”.
“It was rough at the end and I think that does need to be, when Nazanin’s ready to talk about it, that there’s something to go through,” he said.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe opted to leave answering the media’s questions to her husband and MP while she waited with Gabriella in the street outside No 10.
Four days after Mr Johnson’s damaging remarks as foreign secretary, she was summoned before an unscheduled court hearing, where his comments were cited as proof that she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.
Asked ahead of the meeting if Mr Johnson would be apologising, a No 10 spokesman replied: “I think it is important to remember that it was the Iranian government who were responsible for her unfair detention, and the decision to release her was always in their gift.
“However, I would point back to the Prime Minister’s words, his answers to questions on this before and he has previously apologised for his comments in 2017.”