Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Has Been Released After Being Detained In Iran For 5 Years

Sara C Nelson
·Senior Editor, HuffPost UK
·7-min read

British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released after serving a five-year sentence, her lawyer has said.

Speaking to Iranian website Emtedad on Sunday, Hojjat Kermani said: “She was pardoned by Iran’s Supreme Leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they’re cast off.

“She has been freed.” Kermani said a hearing for Nazanin’s second case has been scheduled for Monday March 8.

The mother-of-one is “genuinely happy” after having her ankle tag removed, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said, but he feels “a bit more guarded.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and Gabriella as a baby (Photo: Change.org)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and Gabriella as a baby (Photo: Change.org)

He said: “It’s a mixed day for us – Nazanin is genuinely happy that the ankle tag is off and she has gone to visit her grandmother and the family of one of the other British Iranians held. Both things that she has not been able to do for many months.

“She is having a nice afternoon, has turned her phone off and is not thinking about the rest of it.

“I’m a bit more guarded – it feels to me like they have made one blockage just as they have removed another, and we very clearly remain in the middle of this government game of chess.

“I’m grateful for the Foreign Secretary’s strong words today and the intervention of the British Embassy this morning. But she remains in harm’s way, even if today she is determined not to feel it.”

Of the upcoming court date, Kermani said: “In this case, she is accused of propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s system for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time.”

Nazanin posing for a photo on Sunday after she was released from house arrest  (Photo: Reuters)
Nazanin posing for a photo on Sunday after she was released from house arrest (Photo: Reuters)

But he hoped that “this case will be closed at this stage, considering the previous investigation”.

However, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq later said although she was no longer under house arrest, Nazanin “has been summoned once again to court next Sunday”. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy with the dates.

Nor is it clear whether Nazanin is allowed to leave Iran, though Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said she should be allowed to return to the UK as soon as possible and described Iran’s treatment of her as “intolerable.”

Iran’s judiciary was not immediately available to comment on the release.

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Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary between July 2018 and July 2019, said on Twitter: “Beyond cruel to toy with an innocent mother & six year old child in this way.”

He tagged the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif saying: “Let her come home.”

Nazanin’s sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe said she and Nazanin’s husband Richard had a video call with her on Sunday morning and she was “lit up with joy about having the ankle tag taken off”.

She told Sky News: “It was lovely seeing her face this morning. She’s very relieved to be able to leave the flat finally … but there’s still this threat of the second court case hanging over her, so we wait to see what’s going to happen.

“We don’t really know how to interpret what’s going to happen later this week.

“Is it they’re going to just finish off the paperwork and release her and give her her passport back, or is it that they are going to whack her with that second sentence?

“We don’t know and I think there’s a few more sleepless nights ahead.

“Until we know that the second court case has been quashed and she’s on that plane back home, we can’t celebrate.”

She said her brother Richard was “OK” and that “today is a day for processing and having a bit of a rest with his family”.

The news could be a significant development in the ordeal for Richard and the couple’s daughter Gabriella, who is now six. Richard has campaigned passionately for his wife’s release since she was jailed in Tehran in 2016.

Nazanin, a charity worker, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to introduce her then baby daughter to her parents.

The 42-year-old has been detained in Tehran since 2016, when she was sentenced over allegations, which she has steadfastly denied, of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

She has been out of prison since last spring due to the coronavirus crisis, and has been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella (Photo: Reuters)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella (Photo: Reuters)

While the mother-of-one’s original sentence ended on Sunday, there had been fears her detention would continue after she appeared in court in November on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime. Her husband termed the charges “spurious”, saying the case presented the same evidence used when she was convicted in 2016.

Speaking to HuffPost UK in the days ahead of her release, Richard said he had hardly dared believe she would be released after a number of “false dawns”, including the invocation of rarely-used diplomatic protection for his wife in 2019 – to no avail.

He said: “Nazanin just wants to come home and have a cup of tea on the sofa. But I don’t think I will feel safe to imagine a reunion at the airport or the beginning of a new life until she’s out of Iranian airspace.”

Speaking after her release on Sunday, Kate Allen, director at Amnesty International UK, said: “This is such bittersweet news.

“After all Nazanin’s been through this feels like yet another example of the calculated cruelty of the Iranian authorities.

“The Iranian authorities have an appalling record of playing cruel games – not just with Nazanin, but also with other UK nationals and numerous people held in the country on politically-motivated grounds.

“Nazanin was convicted after a deeply unfair trial the first time around and this spurious new charge and possible trial is clearly designed to delay her release and exert yet more pressure on Nazanin and her family.

“This won’t be over until Nazanin has her passport and is on a flight heading home to the UK.

“The UK government must not take this lying down. All the past talk of not leaving any stone unturned to secure Nazanin’s release must now be translated into very serious diplomatic action.”

It has been claimed Nazanin was being held to force the UK into settling a multi-million-pound dispute with Iran. The debt dates back to the 1970s when the then-Shah of Iran paid the UK £400m for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

After he was toppled in 1979, Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.