Seeking to justify and possibly extend the lengthy sentences of two dual-national political prisoners, Iran’s State TV has aired programs with more allegations.
IRIB broadcast a 7-minute special report on Anglo-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and showed footage of Chinese-American academic researcher Xiyue Wang.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was recently brought into court to face the prospect of charges that could add 16 years to the 5-year sentence which she is already serving.
The Iranian judiciary justified the threat through the mistaken statement of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “teaching people journalism”, rather than visiting her mother and other relatives and friends when she was seized in 2016.
Johnson eventually retracted the statement, but it gave cover to the Iranian regime’s declarations that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had pursued “regime change” through journalism.
The Iranian judiciary has never produced any evidence for the charges of subversion and overthrow, beyond Ratcliffe’s employment in 2009-2010 with BBC Media Action. An initiative of the BBC World Service, Media Action provides information and programs “to help reduce poverty and support people in understanding their rights”.
On Sunday, State TV showed close-ups of Ratcliffe’s April 2010 pay stub from the organization and an e-mail from Zaghari-Ratcliffe which said she was with the project “ZigZag Academy, an online journalism scheme that trains young aspiring journalists from Iran and Afghanistan through a secure online platform”.
The broadcasts are being supported by articles from Iran’s English-language outlet, Press TV, which portrayed Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s duties as “deployment of undercover reporters in Iran to gather intelligence”.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s e-mail from June 2010 does not give any indication of intelligence-related activities. Instead, it describes “online training courses, selecting trainees and assisting them with starting up on the platform; managing and mentoring the trainees’ performance; monitoring the journalist mentors in both Iran and the UK; [and] organizing face-to-face training at the end of each online training course”.
The e-mail was addressed to Sanjay Nazerali, a media marketing consultant who was a “Board Director responsible for Marketing, Communications, Audience Insight, and Public Affairs across the BBC’s Global Journalism activities”.
The program and Press TV also converted Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s advisory work for the media outlet Training Station, run by the former Head of Training for the BBC’s International Development branch, into an espionage operation for a firm “active in toppling governments”.
The Iranian regime has pursued a long-standing campaign against the BBC, which it portrays as part of a “soft war” by Western powers against the Islamic Republic. Staff of BBC Persian have been harassed and intimidated, with their assets seized, their families in Iran interrogated and threatened with detention, and threats of dissemination of damaging claims and photographs about their personal lives.
Some observers have speculated that Iran is pressing Zaghari-Ratcliffe to seek Britain’s release of a £400 million payment ($530 million) by the Shah in the 1970s for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. Both the Iranian regime and the UK Government have denied any connection.
Xijue Wang is a Chinese-born American graduate student at Princeton University, who was in Iran researching the Qajar dynasty for his doctorate in late 19th- and early 20th-century Eurasian history.
Wang was arrested in August 2016. An Iranian court gave him a 10-year sentence in July on the unsupported claim that he passed information to the US State Department.
On Sunday, State TV’s footage of the research showed him in an Iranian courtroom and clips of him emotionally talking to a camera, as well as images of his Iranian visa and a school ID.
“About Iran in that regard, the more knowledge the United States possesses about Iran, the better for its policy toward Iran,” Wang said in the clip. “There is no doubt about it. It is quite obvious.”