DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A British-Iranian woman detained for months in Iran on suspicion of planning the “soft toppling” of the country’s government while traveling with her young daughter has been sentenced to five years in prison, her husband said Friday.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was convicted on “secret charges” in a Revolutionary Court, Richard Ratcliffe said, making her the first dual national known to be convicted as part of a string of detentions following Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
While Iranian authorities haven’t offered a motive for the detentions, analysts and families of those held have suggested hard-liners within the country’s security services want concessions from the West in exchange for releasing them.
“It does seem strange you’d have a sentence without any charges,” Ratcliffe told The Associated Press. “You can’t defend yourself against a secret.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, was sentenced Tuesday by Judge Abolghassem Salavati in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, her husband said. Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including that of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
There was no immediate mention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s hearing in Iranian state media. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. Officials in Tehran could not be reached for comment on Friday, the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.
She was detained in April while trying to fly out of the country with her toddler daughter, Gabriella, who remains in Iran with family after authorities seized her passport. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard has said Zaghari-Ratcliffe participated in the “design and implementation of cyber and media projects to cause the soft toppling of the Islamic Republic,” without elaborating.
Since Iran struck a deal with world powers to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, hard-line security forces have increasingly targeted dual nationals. Iranian law does not recognize dual nationality, meaning those detained cannot receive consular assistance.
The British Embassy in Tehran reopened in August 2015 after being closed for four years and this week the countries appointed ambassadors for the first time since 2011. British Airways recently resumed its flights to Tehran. But while diplomatic relations have normalized, hard-liners in Iran still view Britain with deep suspicion over its role with the United States in the 1953 coup that installed the shah.
The British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The prisoner swap in January between Iran and the U.S. that freed Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans was in exchange for pardons or charges dropped against seven Iranians — six of whom hold dual U.S. citizenship — serving time for or accused of sanctions violations in the U.S.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration also made a $400 million cash delivery to Iran — repaying money from a 1970s Iranian account to buy U.S. military equipment — contingent on their release. That’s garnered criticism from Republicans in an election year.
The U.S. and other countries are believed to be holding other Iranians who Tehran wants released.
Dual nationals known to be held by Iran also include:
— Homa Hoodfar , an Iranian-Canadian woman who is a retired professor at Montreal’s Concordia University;
— Siamak Namazi , an Iranian-American businessman who has advocated for closer ties between the two countries;
— Baquer Namazi , a former Iranian and U.N. official in his 80s who is the father of Siamak;
— Robin Shahini , an Iranian-American detained while visiting family who previously had made online comments criticizing Iran’s human rights record;
— Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who has done work for the American government .
Still missing is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission.