Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Husband 'sitting by the phone'

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (L) posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella Image copyright AFP

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian mother who has been held in Iran for 20 months, could be freed within a fortnight, her husband says.

Richard Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme that the "best case" was a 25 December release.

"We are sitting by the phone hoping", he said, days after an Iranian database listed her as eligible for release.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who turns 39 on Boxing Day, is being held in Iran on spying charges - which she denies.

Her lawyer had visited her in prison, Mr Ratcliffe said, and expected her to be released within the next two weeks.

"She's still in prison today, so best case is tomorrow," he said.

"It's her birthday on Boxing Day so we were sort of hoping she'd be out for then".

The charity worker travelled to Iran last year with her daughter Gabriella, but maintains she was on holiday there.

Mr Ratcliffe initially hoped for his wife's return to the UK before Christmas, after learning of a status change in her case from "closed" to "eligible for release".

He said "there's no sign of a new court case" and that he was "sitting by the phone hoping".

But Iran's spokesman for the judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i, refused to rule out a second charge for "spreading propaganda".

Speaking on Sunday, he said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for alleged spying, had only received a final verdict on this charge.

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

Image copyright PA

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, has dual British and Iranian citizenship.

On 3 April 2016, she was arrested at an Iranian airport while travelling home with her young daughter and accused of plotting against the Iranian government.

She says she took her daughter Gabriella, three, to Iran to celebrate the country's new year and visit her parents.

Before her arrest, she lived in London with accountant husband Richard Ratcliffe and worked as a project manager for the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Read more about the Iran jail case

Mr Ratcliffe said he would light the candles on a birthday cake for his wife whatever happens, and telephone three-year-old Gabriella who is being looked after by her grandparents in Iran.

"She quite likes to watch a birthday cake having its candles blown out," he said.

"[We] sort of try and defiantly celebrate if we can, and keep spirits up."

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Media captionRichard Ratcliffe tells the BBC: "Formally, on the system, she's eligible to be released at any point."

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife's prospects had improved since her case was taken up by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - after he apologised for a gaffe which appeared to contradict claims she was on holiday.

He admitted to being "critical" of Mr Johnson, but said: "He's been making every effort in the past couple of weeks and his visit to Iran was profoundly important."

He admitted the progress of his wife's case in Iran was "bewildering", adding: "We're trying not to get too up or too down and just keep battling on".

"We're just watching everything now," he said.

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