Michael Gove has risked making the situation of a British mother imprisoned in Iran worse by saying that he does not know what she was doing in the country, contradicting the government’s official position that she was there on holiday.
The environment secretary’s comments on the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe follow on from comments made earlier this week after Boris Johnson said she was in Tehran training journalists. The remarks were seized upon by the Iranian state media as a “confession” and are believed to have left her facing an additional five years in prison.
Defending the foreign secretary on the Andrew Marr Show, Gove was asked what he thought Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested and convicted of “plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime”
Gove responded: “I don’t know. One of the things I want to stress is that there is no reason why she should be in prison in Iran as far as I know.”
After Marr then clarified that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, said she had been there on holiday, Gove said: “I take exactly her husband’s assurances in that regard. Her family are the people who should know.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have said Johnson’s comments were not true and place her at further risk of extended imprisonment in Evin prison, dubbed as a “black hole of human-made evil”.
There will be concerns that Gove’s remarks before he was corrected by Marr will be interpreted as giving weight to the idea that the British government does not believe she was on holiday.
Reports from her family about her well being are very concerning at this point and contradictory statements from British politicians clearly are not helping in any way. If these politicians are unsure about the case they should refrain from speaking about it or making comments that could make her plight worse.
Her husband has reported that there are serious concerns for her health fearing she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and she has also visited specialist doctors after finding lumps in her breast and complaining of stabbing pains for over a year.