Britain has accused Iranian authorities of abuse that “amounts to torture” of a dual national held by Iran for five years, while the United States has rejected an unsourced report that a prisoner swap had been agreed for Westerners held in Iran.
The renewed focus on Westerners held in Iran emerged a day after the parties to a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran wrapped up a third round of tense talks on May 1 focused on bringing the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the deal.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on May 2 said that dual British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran since 2016, is being held “unlawfully” and “being treated in the most abusive” way.
“I think it amounts to torture the way she’s being treated, and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her,” Raab told BBC television on May 2.
Raab spoke by telephone with former charity worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe on April 28, days after her lawyer announced that she had been sentenced to another year in prison in Iran for spreading “propaganda against the system.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was already serving a five-year sentence for plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters, and rights groups deny.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has accused Tehran of holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a diplomatic ploy.
Iranian state TV on May 2 quoted an anonymous source as saying a deal had been agreed for the United Kingdom to pay hundreds of millions of pounds for the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The claims of a prisoner swap came in the hours before a nationally broadcast speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he made no mention of such a deal.
The U.S. State Department denied Iranian reports suggesting a deal including a prisoner swap had been made between Washington and Tehran.
“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”
The unsourced reports said four Iranians and “four American spies who have served part of their sentences” would be traded and $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds released.
Iran is known to be holding at least four Americans: father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, and entrepreneur Emad Shargi.
Hawks in Iran and the West have opposed U.S. President Joe Biden’s stated aim of rejoining the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 to reimpose sanctions on Iran.