Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe returns to the UK after six-year ordeal

·6-min read

Plane carrying Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow British-Iranian detainee Anoosheh Ashoori lands at RAF Brize Norton

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been reunited with her family, hugging and kissing her seven-year-old daughter in emotional scenes at RAF Brize Norton after returning to Britain for the first time since she was detained in Iran six years ago.

Related: ‘Free at last’: what the papers say about the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Wearing a blue dress and a yellow scarf, the colours of Ukraine, Zaghari-Ratcliffe stepped off a government-chartered flight from Oman at the Oxfordshire airbase in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Alongside 44-year-old Zaghari-Ratcliffe as she disembarked was fellow British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, who was also released from jail in Iran on Wednesday.

They walked across the tarmac together, gesturing to photographers, before entering the airport building for a private reunion with their families.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, left, and Anoosheh Ashoori wave after landing at RAF Brize Norton.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, left, and Anoosheh Ashoori wave after landing at RAF Brize Norton. Photograph: Leon Neal/AP

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was seen hugging her daughter, Gabriella, inside the reception building. She carried the girl in her arms as they were surrounded by other family members, including her husband, Richard, who campaigned for years for her release.

Gabriella was heard asking “Is that mummy?’’ as her mother disembarked the flight at Brize Norton, according to a video shared on Instagram by Anoosheh Ashoori’s daugher, Elika. Later in the video, Richard Ratcliffe shakes Anoosheh Ashoori’s hand, before Ashoori is reunited with his tearful family.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe appears in the video and hugs and kisses her daughter and asked her “do I smell nice?”, before holding her hands. She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.

Elika Ashoori also posted a tweet of the families at the airport, captioned “Happiness in one pic”.

Sharing photographs from the flight on Twitter, Stephanie Al-Qaq, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Office, said there was “relief and joy” as the British-Iranians and officials left Tehran.

Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, was watching on from the airport building as the pair arrived and tweeted that she was “delighted” that Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori had returned to the UK.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori, who was detained in Evin prison for almost five years, were accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and of spying respectively.

A third British detainee, Morad Tahbaz, has been released from prison on furlough but remains in Iran. All three deny the charges.

Truss said on Thursday morning that the government would “continue to work intensively’’ for the freedom of Tahbaz.

As part of negotiations for their release, the UK is understood to have agreed to pay £393.8m owed to Iran after it cancelled an order of Chieftain tanks following the overthrow of the Shah in the revolution of 1979. The details of the deal were hammered out in secret talks in February largely in Oman between a British Foreign Office team and the Iranians. With trust between the two countries at a low point, every aspect of the deal, including its choreography, had to be agreed.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were initially taken to the Gulf state of Oman, which has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after landing at RAF Brize Norton. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Earlier, Boris Johnson thanked the Omani government for its help in bringing the pair home. Speaking on a visit to Saudi Arabia, the prime minister said: “It is fantastic news that Nazanin is out. I am thrilled also for Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz who are also out.

“It has been a lot of work by a lot of people. I want to pay particular tribute to her husband Richard. It is fantastic that she will be able to come back, see her family, see her daughter Gabriella.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained on security charges by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran where she introduced Gabriella to her grandparents. Ashoori was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran.

In the Commons, with Ratcliffe and Gabriella, seven, watching, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, set out details of their release.

“It was only when we heard that the wheels were up in Tehran that we really knew it was happening,” she said.

Tulip Siddiq, who is Ratcliffe’s MP, told ITV’s Peston programme about how Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been able to come home. The Labour MP said: “She was contacted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Iran over the weekend and asked to come in for questioning, and quite apprehensive – she messaged me before she went. To her utter surprise, at the end of the questioning, and there were some scare tactics in there, she was given her British passport back.

“Bearing in mind she hasn’t seen her British passport since 23 April 2016. But just as she was about to leave the door, they said to her, ‘Don’t book your own flight, we will sort out the flights for you’.

“So after that, I had an idea that she would be coming back, but it’s always touch and go with these things – we’ve had so many false dawns, I didn’t know for sure.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori disembark from the plane at RAF Brize Norton .
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori disembark from the plane at RAF Brize Norton . Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

“But the minute she was at the airport, I had a message from Richard Ratcliffe saying Nazanin is at the airport and to her surprise Anoosheh was there as well, who was the other detainee, [a] British citizen. We didn’t think he was coming home, because he wasn’t under house arrest, he was actually in Evin prison.”

The former prime minister David Cameron, who was in No 10 when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran, told Channel 4 News her release was “a piece of good news that we’ve all been waiting to hear for so long”.

Iran is treating Tahbaz, 66, as an American citizen, even though he was born in Hammersmith, west London, and holds US, UK and Iranian citizenship. Disagreements over his fate proved an obstacle to a deal in the past.

The Tahbaz family told the Guardian: “We have been let down and betrayed by the British government. He was the only one of the three with a British birth certificate, and he has been left behind. We were not told about this arrangement except in a short phone call with the foreign secretary, when it was too late to do anything about it. The British now just say he is an American problem.”

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