Family of Briton detained in Iran hopeful about release

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LONDON (AP) — The family of a British-Iranian woman detained for months in Iran for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government said Thursday they are hopeful she could come home soon after discovering she has served enough of her sentence to be eligible for early release from prison.

There was no official update on the case of charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, who has been serving a five-year prison sentence since she was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Her family denies charges that she was plotting against Tehran, insisting she was only traveling to Iran to visit family.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe's lawyer has discovered that the case has been classed "eligible for early release" on the Iranian judiciary website. It was previously classed "closed."

Prisoners in Iran are generally eligible for release once they've served a third of their sentences.

While the news didn't mean a decision has been made to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband said it was a very positive sign and he was "cautiously hopeful."

"It feels the tide has turned. There's every reason to be hopeful," he told The Associated Press.

A former employee of the BBC World Service Trust, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. Both her family and Thomson Reuters stress she was not involved in any work regarding Iran while there.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was heavily criticized at home last month after he claimed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was "teaching people journalism" when she was arrested last year. Though Johnson later corrected himself, Iranian state television has made a point to repeatedly highlight them as justification for imprisoning her.

In November Iranian state television aired further allegations against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, raising fears that officials could add more years to her prison term. But Ratcliffe said Thursday he believed there were no more court cases pending against his wife.

Ratcliffe added that he believed there had been "incremental improvement" in the case, including allowing his wife to make more phone calls, since Johnson raised it during a trip to Iran earlier this month.

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