Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has arrived in Iran to seek the release of a British mum who has been locked up in the country for more than 19 months.
Mr Johnson, who touched down in the capital, Tehran, this morning, will express “grave concerns” regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his visit.
The move follows claims he made matters worse for the 38-year-old – who is currently serving a five-year jail sentence – amid claims she was a spy.
Mr Johnson wrongly told MPs that she had been in Iran to train journalists. He later apologised.
But Tehran afterwards announced that the mum would face further espionage charges which could see her sentence extended by up to 10 years.
Details of Mr Johnson’s visit were agreed before a new court appearance was set for Sunday.
His trip to Tehran is only the third by a UK Foreign Secretary since 2003.
It comes at a time of tension in the Middle East over US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In wide-ranging talks with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mr Johnson will seek to shore up bilateral relations and urge Tehran to stick by the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
Richard Ratcliffe asks Boris Johnson to bring his wife home for Christmas (Dailymotion)
Nazanin is imprisoned over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government.
She denies the claims. The mother had been arrested last year during a holiday visit to show her baby daughter Gabriella to her parents.
Earlier this week, Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said news of Mr Johnson’s visit to Iran was likely to have given her hope.
He told Sky News: “Nazanin has a new court case on Sunday, so it is really, really great that he is able to be there, just to press how important it is that she could be home with her family.”
He added: “I think him being there can only make things better. It makes a clear statement that he is concerned about Nazanin, he is concerned about the other cases.
“I am sure the fact that the Foreign Secretary is going will have given her some hope and fingers crossed that maybe something will come.”
Richard said he had asked Mr Johnson to meet his wife, her family and the judiciary in Iran.
Speaking on Wednesday night, he explained that he was hoping to be able to travel with Mr Johnson but that his “top priority” was for the Foreign Secretary to get to Iran in time for Sunday’s court case.
“I’m really pleased he is there in time for Nazanin’s trial and waiting to see what will happen. I’m certainly hopeful but I’m trying not to be expectant,” he told The Guardian.
It is understood that Richard has not ended up accompanying Mr Johnson on his trip after receiving advice that it may not help his chances of seeing his wife in prison.
“If I’m blunt, it is better that he is there in time for her trial than he and I go there after her trial and she’s been sentenced to more years,” he told the newspaper.
When the couple last spoke by telephone on Tuesday, Nazanin was “genuinely worried about the court case and getting quite agitated,” her husband said.
Commenting on reports of Mr Johnson’s visit earlier this week, Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen said: “We’re cautiously hopeful that this could be the light at the end of the tunnel for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
“As we’ve been saying over and over, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a charity worker who’s been jailed for five years after enduring solitary confinement and a deeply unfair trial.
“The Iranian authorities have a record of toying with the fate of prisoners being held for ‘political’ reasons, so it’s still very hard to feel confident that her release is imminent.
“We fervently hope the Foreign Secretary’s visit can secure her speedy release, but if it doesn’t we’ll go on campaigning. This is a gross injustice and it must be set right.”
Nazanin’s case is one of a small number of cases of dual nationals whose release Britain is seeking on humanitarian grounds on which Mr Johnson will push for progress.
The Foreign Office has declined to name the other individuals involved – or even identify the number in jail – after their families asked for their cases to be kept out of the public eye.
Relations with Iran have been strained in recent years, despite the reopening of the UK embassy in Tehran in 2015, but London has detected possible signs of greater openness to dialogue in recent months.