UK’s Johnson makes fuller apology for remarks on jailed aid worker in Iran

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson answering an urgent question on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in the House of Commons chamber in London on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2017

UK’s Johnson makes fuller apology for remarks on jailed aid worker in Iran

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a second, fuller apology on Monday for remarks about an Iranian-British aid worker jailed in Iran that critics said might have prompted Iran to extend her prison sentence.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years after being convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denies the charges.
Johnson told a parliamentary committee on Nov. 1 that she had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in April 2016, contradicting her and her employer, who said she had been on holiday visiting her family.
“It was my mistake. I should have been clearer. I apologize for the distress and anguish that has been caused to Mrs.Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family,” Johnson told lawmakers on Monday. “Our priority now is to do everything we can to get her out of Iran on humanitarian grounds.”
On Nov. 7 Johnson said in the course of an exchange with an opposition MP in parliament that “I am sorry if any words of mine have been so taken out of context and so misconstrued as to cause any kind of anxiety for the family.”
Opposition British lawmakers had said the remarks could land the aid worker a longer term in jail.
Johnson, whose job has come under pressure over the case, said he would meet Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband this week, adding that the issue was casting a shadow over relations with Iran.
“I shall travel to Iran myself later this year to review the full state of our bilateral relations and to drive home the strength of feeling in this House and in the country at large,” Johnson said.
Earlier on Monday, the government said it was considering granting diplomatic protection to Zaghari-Ratcliffe as part of an effort to secure her release from jail.
It is unclear how such protection could be offered retrospectively to a dual Iranian-British citizen, or whether such a move could help to secure her release, but a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said it was one option being considered.
“The prime minister has been involved with this case from the outset, she’s raised it with the Iranian president on at least two occasions, the entire government is working toward securing her release as quickly as possible,” he said.
A legal opinion prepared for the human rights charity Redress on Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case said the British government could grant her diplomatic protection as she is “predominantly” a British citizen who has been denied a fair trial.
It is unclear how Tehran would view such a step, which would explicitly make Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate an issue in state-to-state relations rather than a purely consular case.

BARGAINING CHIP
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate become a major political issue in Britain after Johnson made remarks on Nov. 1 that appeared to cast doubt on statements from her employer.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News, said she had been on holiday and had not been teaching journalism in Iran.
Iranian state television said Johnson’s comments showed Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s guilt and that she was involved in spying.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the case had become a bargaining chip for Iran in its relations with Britain, and that it would not be helpful for Johnson to resign.
He has asked to come with Johnson on a trip to Tehran planned for later this year and called for her to be given diplomatic protection.
“Nazanin is being held because she is British and is being used as a bargaining chip against the UK, now justified by your words,” he said in an article in the Evening Standard newspaper.
“Nazanin is no longer simply a consular case as she has been endangered in a deeper way,” he wrote.
He added the uncertainty had affected his wife’s health and she had gone to hospital for tests after finding lumps on her breasts, which the specialist thought were benign and stress-related.
British ministers have rallied round Johnson but one of his allies, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, was accused of muddying the waters in a television interview on Sunday when he said he did not know what Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran.


Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

Updated 44 min 48 sec ago

Sunny weather tempts Europe; UK queen urges self-discipline

LONDON: As warm, sunny weather beckoned across Europe, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons on Sunday to exercise self-discipline in “an increasingly challenging time” as the country saw a record 24-hour jump in coronavirus deaths that even outpaced the daily toll in hard-hit Italy.
Britain recorded 708 new coronavirus deaths Saturday while Italy reported 631 deaths that day. With 621 more deaths reported on Sunday, Britain has 4,934 virus deaths overall among 47, 806 cases. Those coming down with the virus in the UK include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the health secretary, England’s chief medical official and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
There are wide fears that Johnson’s Conservative government did not take the virus seriously enough at first and that beautiful spring weather will tempt Britons and others to break social distancing rules.
In an address to the nation to be televised later Sunday, the 93-year-old queen said the pandemic had caused enormous disruptions, bringing grief, financial difficulties and daunting challenges to everybody. It is only the fourth time since her reign began in 1953 that she has given such an address.
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she said in pre-released remarks. “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”
The queen’s son, Charles, on Friday remotely opened a vast temporary hospital for corona patients in a London convention center after completing a week of isolation. Johnson still had a fever Friday but his infected pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds, tweeted she is “on the mend” after a week in bed.
As the sun shone and the temperatures rose toward 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sunbathing in public places was not allowed and the UK might even ban outdoor exercise if people still ‘’flout the rules.”
“The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home,” Hancock told Sky TV. “But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that — it’s quite unbelievable, frankly, to see that.”
As the numbers of infections rose, the deputy head of Britain’s National Health Service Providers said the agency needs to focus on quickly increasing ventilator capacity and getting more protective equipment for health care workers.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,’’ Saffron Cordery told Sky TV.
Restrictions on movement vary from country to country. In Germany and Britain, residents can get out to exercise and walk their dogs, as well as go to the supermarket, the post office and other essential tasks. Yet in Serbia and South Africa, dog walking is not allowed.
In France, heat-seeking drones have been whizzing over Fontainebleau forest to identify rule-breakers after the former royal estate in the Paris suburbs was closed to the public. That high-tech measure has been coupled with more traditional police patrols on horseback and roadblocks that turn back the cars of those seeking to escape urban areas.
In Sweden, authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants are still open.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and blessed palms for Palm Sunday in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica. Usually tens of thousands of faithful would have crowded the square outside to attend a papal Mass.
Holy Thursday and Easter services will beheld the same way. In the pope’s native Argentina, the faithful were using plants at home for a “virtual” blessing during a livestream of the Palm Sunday service.
Italians have not been immune to lure of the good weather either, even though the country has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 15,000.
Top Italian officials took to national television after photos were published showing huge crowds out shopping in Naples, Rome, Genoa and even the hard-hit Veneto city of Padua. Lombardy vice governor Fabrizio Sala said cellphone date showed 38% of the region’s people were out and about — the highest figure since March 20.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that all the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown began on March 10 risked being reversed.
As deaths and infections soared across the United States, new infections were slowing in Italy and Spain. Rome’s main hospital for coronavirus infections reported that, for the first time since Italy’s outbreak began, more patients were discharged than admitted.
Spain announced 6,023 confirmed new infections Sunday, taking its national tally to 130,759 but down from an increase of 7,026 infections in the previous day. Spain’s confirmed new virus deaths dropped for the third straight day, to 674 — the first time daily deaths have fallen below 800 in the past week.
“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
At week when millions of Spaniards typically go on holiday, data suggested most were following lockdown regulations. Transport authorities on Sunday reported an 85% decrease in long-distance public transport and an 80% drop in the use of private vehicles compared to a normal day.
Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and more than 65,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate under-reporting by some governments.
Almost 250,000 people have recovered from the virus, which is spread by microscopic droplets from coughs or sneezes. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. The World Health Organization says 95% of the known coronavirus deaths in Europe have been in people over 60.
The rapid spread of the virus in the United States has prompted a chaotic scramble for desperately needed medical equipment and protective gear, prompting intense squabbling between the states and the federal government.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised China for sending 1,000 ventilators, while President Donald Trump claimed that states are making inflated requests for supplies. In mixed messages, Trump warned that the country could be headed into its toughest weeks yet and see many deaths but also said he’s eager to get the US economy back on track.
The number of people infected in the US has soared to more than 312,000 as the fatalities climbed past 8,500.
New York City is the epicenter of the US outbreak but more than 400 people have also died in Louisiana, where state authorities have been rushing to find ventilators. Michigan has more than 14,000 infections and 500 deaths, mainly in Detroit.
Beijing authorities said Sunday about 78,000 people had visited cemeteries in the Chinese capital for annual “tomb-sweeping” ceremonies, down 90% over last year. Thousands of others paid their respects through an online portal that allowed them to light a candle, burn incense and offer wine and flowers, all virtually.

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