British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives to at a service to mark Anzac Day at Westminster Abbey in London, the UK, April 25 2019. Picture: AFP/ DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives to at a service to mark Anzac Day at Westminster Abbey in London, the UK, April 25 2019. Picture: AFP/ DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

London — British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has dismissed the suggestion of a prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran, saying it was part of a “vile” diplomatic tactic.

In New York, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition warrant.

Hunt suggested that Zarif had subsequently retracted his remarks, but said the key point was that there was a “huge difference” between the two women.

“The woman in jail in Australia is facing due process, a proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime,” he told reporters in London. “Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent — she has done nothing wrong.”

He added: “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it as leverage. I’m afraid that is what is happening with this Australian case. They’re saying, we’ll only release this innocent Brit if you’ll do something that suits us diplomatically.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was only one of numerous dual nationals from Western countries being held in Iran, Hunt said.

“I hope that the outcome of this will not just be freedom for Nazanin but actually the ending of this practice by Iran, which is absolutely vile and they are basically the only country in the world that does it.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives for the Persian New Year. Iranian authorities accused her of plotting against the government and handed her a five-year jail sentence for sedition. Britain has taken the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection in a bid to free her.

Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested in 2017 after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company. US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.

Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.

AFP