Tehran launches new case against UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Tehran (AFP)

Iran on Tuesday told Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran, that she faces a "new indictment", dampening her supporters' hopes she will be released anytime soon by the Islamic republic.

"The 15th chamber of the Islamic Revolutionary Court summoned Nazanin Zaghari this morning with her lawyer... to notify them of a new indictment," said state TV website Iribnews.

The report cited "an informed source" and gave no further details.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016, is serving a five-year sentence for sedition. She has always denied all charges.

Tulip Siddiq, the British MP for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's constituency, tweeted that she had been in touch with the detainee after the announcement, confirming that "she was taken to court this morning and told she will face another trial on Sunday".

"I know many people are concerned about her welfare and I'll keep everyone updated when we have more information," Siddiq said.

The new indictment comes after Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said late last month that he feared his wife could face a second trial.

"I think, behind closed doors, they keep saying there's a second court case, they keep talking about running it," he told British channel ITV.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting relatives in Iran with the couple's young daughter.

She worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation -- the media organisation's philanthropic arm -- at the time.

Already in 2017, when Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family had hoped to obtain her early release, the Iranian Judicial Authority ruled out the possibility, saying there were "two cases" against her.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been on temporary release from Evin prison in Tehran since the spring due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

- 'Collateral' -

Media in both the UK and Iran have drawn a possible link between Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention and a British debt dating back more than 40 years, to when the Shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

When the Shah was ousted in 1979, Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic but kept the money.

The British government has previously admitted it owes Iran up to £300 million ($395 million), but both countries have denied any link between that and the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case.

"Well of course there should be no link," Ratcliffe told ITV. "It's completely outrageous to be holding people and using them as collateral."

British daily The Guardian reported on Friday that UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace had for the first time said he was "actively" seeking to repay a debt to Iran to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other Iranian-British detainees in a letter to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's lawyers.

"With regard to (International Military Services) Ltd and the outstanding legal dispute the government acknowledges there is a debt to be paid and continues to explore every legal avenue for the lawful discharge of that debt," he wrote.

A court hearing over the debt is set for 4 November, according to The Guardian.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is among several dual nationals and other foreigners held in Iran over security charges.

They also include Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Mohammad Bagher Namazi.

The Islamic republic does not recognise dual nationality and has lashed out at foreign governments for interfering in what it says are domestic cases.