DUBAI — Iranian state television aired videos in the past week targeting a Briton and an American serving time on espionage charges in what appeared to be a bid to pressure the United States and Britain as London considers making a $530 million payment to Tehran.
The case of Iranian-British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrested last year, has gained momentum in recent weeks as British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson faces criticism at home over his handling of it.
Meanwhile, state television aired footage of Chinese American national Xiyue Wang, also detained in 2016, as President Trump continues his hard line against Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, already serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling there with her toddler daughter, faces new charges that could add 16 years to her prison term.
On Thursday, Iranian state television aired a seven-minute special report on Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It included close-ups of an April 2010 pay stub from her previous employer, the BBC World Service Trust.
It also included an email from June 2010 in which she wrote about the ZigZag Academy, a BBC World Service Trust project in which the charity trained “young aspiring journalists from Iran and Afghanistan through a secure online platform.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe left the BBC in 2011 and joined the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. Both her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and Thomson Reuters repeatedly have stressed that she was not training journalists or involved in any work regarding Iran while there.
The state television report comes as the British foreign minister faces criticism after he told a parliamentary committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “teaching people journalism” when she was arrested last year. Although Johnson later corrected himself, the Iranian television report made a point to highlight his comments.
The report comes as Britain and Iran discuss the release of about 400 million pounds held by London, a payment that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979, and the Islamic Revolution soon installed the clerically overseen system that endures to this day.
Authorities in London and Tehran deny that the payment has any link to Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Late Sunday, Iranian state TV aired a feature focused on Wang, a Chinese-born American graduate student at Princeton who is accused of passing confidential information about Iran to the State Department. He was arrested in August 2016 while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty, which once ruled Iran, for his doctorate, according to Princeton officials.