Conservative MP Micheal Gove has come under fire for claiming he did not know what British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested in 2016. The 38-year-old mother from London was sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of leading a "soft coup".
Gove told the BBC's Andrew Marr he "didn't know" why the woman was in Iran, but that he would "take her husband's assurance" that she was on holiday in the Islamic Republic.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett accused Gove of protecting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is facing mounting pressure to leave office after he made some damaging remarks on Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Trickett said Gove had "compounded" Johnson's "cavalier approach to international diplomacy".
The Foreign Secretary incorrectly stated that the woman, a charity worker and a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), was "simply teaching people journalism" in Iran when she was arrested in 2016.
Johnson was criticised for incorrectly stating that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in the country in a working capacity. Both TRF and Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard, maintain that the woman was on holiday at the time of her arrest – a central part of her defence.
Iran exploited Johnson's comments in court as offering new evidence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe and why she was in the Islamic Republic at the time of her arrest. She was accused of engaging in "propaganda against the regime" and could face an additional five-year sentence.
However, Gove said the blame should be on Iran, rather than Johnson.
"We make a big mistake if we think the right thing to do is to blame politicians in a democracy who are trying to do the right thing for the plight of a woman who is being imprisoned by a regime that is a serial abuser of human rights," he said.
"Who is in the dock here? Iran. It should be the actions of their judiciary and the revolutionary guards."
Johnson facing calls to resign
In spite of calls to do so, Johnson did not fully backtrack on his comments, nor did he apologise. However, he admitted he could have been "clearer" and suggested he goes to Iran by the end of the year to further discuss the case.
The Foreign Office confirmed that Johnson talked to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard, on Sunday, but did not elaborate further, AP reported.
Ratcliffe told the BBC he hoped he could travel to Iran with Johnson to meet his wife.
Johnson's blunder has triggered calls for his resignation.