Britain takes step to protect woman detained in Iran

The U.K. government has decided to provide diplomatic protection to a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran for nearly three years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is accused of plotting against the Iranian government

Richard Ratcliffe views stones and placards with messages placed on the pavement outside the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London during a demonstration to demand the release of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is imprisoned in Iran. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

The U.K. government has decided to provide diplomatic protection to a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran for nearly three years.

The Foreign Office said Friday the move means Britain formally asserts that Iran has failed to meet its international obligations in its treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

It means Britain no longer regards her case as simply a consular matter and raises it to the level of a legal dispute between Britain and Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government. She was travelling with her toddler daughter Gabriella, who also remains in Iran.

Her family denies the allegations.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe welcomed the move Friday, saying it could lead to a resolution of her case within months.

"It changes the status for Nazanin's case," Ratcliffe told BBC radio. "Now it's also the British government's case and all the injustices that happen to Nazanin are effectively injustices against the British government."

A photo of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen among candles during a vigil on the fourth birthday of her daughter Gabriella opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on June 11, 2018. Zaghari-Ratcliffe decided to go on a new hunger strike following her daughter's fifth birthday on June 11. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

He said the top priority is to have a doctor see Zaghari-Ratcliffe to provide urgent medical care.

"A couple of months ago she went on hunger strike because she wasn't getting any treatment, and was promised it but it didn't happen, so she got very low again recently. I'm sure this will give her a big lift," he said.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said legal proceedings against Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran were deficient and that she has been denied proper access to health professionals.

"My decision is an important diplomatic step which signals to Tehran that its behaviour is totally wrong," he said.

Hunt conceded the move is unlikely to lead to immediate results. The British government has long been seeking her release.

Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to Britain, said in a tweet Friday that the British government's move violates international law.

 He said governments can only extend such protection to their own nationals and that Iran does not recognize dual nationality.

"Ms Zaghari thus remains Iranian," he said.