British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed in Iran but faces new court date

Abbie Cheeseman
·4-min read
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella  - HANDOUT/Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Getty Images
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella - HANDOUT/Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Getty Images

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from house arrest in Tehran on Sunday as the charity worker’s five-year-sentence for espionage charges came to an end, but she was immediately given a summons to court next week, pummeling hopes that she would be able to return to the UK tomorrow.

Hojjat Kermani, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer, told Iran’s Emtedad news that despite completing her sentence for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian government - a charge she vigorously denied - "a hearing for Zaghari's second case has been scheduled at branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran" on March 14.

The second set of charges, related to involvement in propaganda activity against the Islamic Republic, have been repeatedly threatened by the Iranians throughout Nazanin’s case. The charges are thought to relate to accusations Iranian prosecutors levied against her in 2017, claiming that she attended a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in 2009 and was working with BBC Persian to train journalists.

Iran also levelled new charges against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in September 2020, but did not go through with prosecution in the face of diplomatic outrage.

"Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable," Boris Johnson said on Twitter. "She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this."

There has been no confirmation as to what charges Nazanin could face next Sunday. Her lawyer told Iran’s state TV that he also had “no information” on the status of her travel ban. Tulip Saddiq, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, told the BBC that Nazanin had not yet had her passport returned to her.

“I think it is mixed [news], in truth - giving with one hand and taking with the other,” Mr Ratcliffe told The Telegraph on Sunday. “They have closed the legal anomaly of needing to release her, but still found a way to keep her under jeopardy.”

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Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 when trying to return to the UK from Tehran, where she had taken her 22-month-old daughter to visit her grandparents. Her five-year sentence saw her go on hunger strike three times, live through eight months of solitary confinement and survive what her family called psychological torture from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Since last year, when she was one of 85,000 prisoners temporarily released at the height of the pandemic, she has been held under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran. She has been wearing an ankle tag that restricts her to within 300 metres of the house.

"At the centre of this is an innocent woman, her husband and her daughter," former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, adding that Iran’s actions were "totally and utterly inhumane".

Gabriella, the six-year-old daughter of Nazanin and Richard who was there when her mother was arrested, has been counting down the days until her mother could fly home on a big calendar in their London family home.

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"We welcome the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ankle tag, but Iran continues to put her and her family through a cruel and an intolerable ordeal,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

"She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK. We will continue to do all we can to achieve this. We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable."

The diplomatic backdrop of UK-Iranian relations have been linked to Nazanin’s fate for years, with her family continually claiming that she is being held hostage over a £400 million debt from the 1970s that the UK acknowledges it owes Iran, but cannot pay because of sanctions on the country.

“She is very pleased this afternoon to be without an ankle tag, so for now we are just enjoying that,” Mr Ratcliffe said. “But we will have to see what next week brings - clearly she is still being held as leverage over the UK.”