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U.K. Takes ‘Extremely Unusual’ Step Granting Diplomatic Protection to a Dual National Detained in Iran

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U.K. Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt announced Thursday that a British-Iranian aid worker being detained in Iran will receive diplomatic protection.

The rare move is unlikely to be a “magic wand,” Hunt said, but it formally recognizes that the U.K. government views her treatment as unjust and illegal.

“This represents a formal recognition by the British Government that her treatment fails to meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevates it to a formal state-to-state issue,” Hunt said in a video statement shared on Twitter.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked as a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was detained while she was with her young daughter after visiting family in Iran in April 2016, Reuters reports.

She was sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, according to Reuters. Her family has denied the charges.

Hunt said that he decided to take the “extremely unusual” step of granting a citizen diplomatic protection because of the “unacceptable treatment” of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who he called “an innocent woman.”

The Iranian government has failed to provide her sufficient medical care or the right of due process, he added. According to Reuters, Zaghari-Ratcliffe began a hunger strike earlier this year to protest her treatment.

“The U.K. will not stand by when one of its citizens is treated so unjustly,” said Hunt.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises on its website there is “a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British/Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran.”

Iran has detained scores of Iranian dual-national foreign citizens in recent years. The arrests, which appear to be politically motivated, include academics, businessmen and journalists

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Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com