Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: British officials watched me sign 'dehumanising' false confession

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella arriving in Downing Street - Victoria Jones/PA
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella arriving in Downing Street - Victoria Jones/PA

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was watched by British officials while being forced to sign a “dehumanising” false confession claiming she was a spy, she has revealed in her first interview.

The 44-year-old Iranian-British dual citizen was detained in Iran from 3 April 2016 to 16 March 2022 under charges of espionage for the British Government. She was freed after the UK settled a historic debt to Iran.

In her first interview with the media following her release, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe revealed that when she met with Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, following her release he said her detention “was about the debt”.

She also revealed how she was made to sign a false confession in the presence of the British Government.

“The British Government [was] not questioning it. Why I have to do it,” she said, adding: “The whole thing of me signing the forced confession was filmed.”

In an interview with Emma Barnett and BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe told how she did not believe she was going home “until such time that I got on the plane”. She said she was taken by the Revolutionary Guards to the airport and did not see her parents, who reside in Tehran.

“Instead I was made to sign the forced confession at the airport in the presence of the British Government,” she said. “They told me that you won't be able to get on the plane. And I knew that that was like a last minute game.

“They told me that they have been given the money. So what is the point of making me sign a piece of paper which is incorrect. It's a false confession.”

Boris Johnson meets with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson meets with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

She told how the paper she was asked to sign was a false confession to a string of accusations which she has always vehemently denied. “And also the British Government not questioning it - why I have to do it,” she added.

Asked if a British official was with her while she signed it, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe replied: “She was with me. Yeah, but also the whole thing was filmed. The whole thing of me signing the forced confession was filmed … They enjoy showing the, how scary they are and the desperation of people.”

“It's a tool,” she added. “So I'm sure they will show that someday. Of me signing, even though it was under duress, And I just want to them to put it here [...] On the record. That all the false confessions that we have been exposed to. They have no value. They are just propaganda for the Iranian regime to show how scary they are and they can do whatever they want to do.

“It is it is dehumanising, in my opinion, if you force someone to sign something that... First of all, I have finished my sentence, but also I haven't done it. In the first place…

“Why would I sign something? I have been trying very, very hard for the past six years to say I have not done it.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested on spying charges while visiting her parents in Iran, with her then two-year-old daughter Gabriella, in April 2016.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella stand on the doorstep after a meeting at 10 Downing Street on May 13, 2022 - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella stand on the doorstep after a meeting at 10 Downing Street on May 13, 2022 - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

While in Iran in September 2016, she was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and was given a five-year sentence.

In April 2021, she was sentenced for a further year on charges of propaganda against the government.

She has always denied those allegations and said that she was only in Iran to visit her family.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, mounted a tireless campaign to free his wife, including twice going on hunger strike. Her release finally came after the UK Government paid a £400 million debt to Iran dating back to the 1970s. However, both governments have said the two issues should not be linked.

In her interview, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said spoke of what she endured as “an open-ended sentence, and open-ended abuse”. Asked what the Prime Minister said about the historic debt, she replied: “He did mention, he said it was about the debt.”

The Foreign Office described Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight as an “horrendous ordeal” right up to the moment she left the country, adding: “Throughout that time, the UK Government was working tirelessly to end her unfair detention. But it was always in Iran's gift to release Nazanin and to allow her to return to the family.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe talks to Emma Barnett is on BBC One on Monday at 8pm. An extended version of the interview will be available on BBC Sounds at 8.30pm and on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday at 10am.

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