Morad Tahbaz: Family of British-US national detained in Iran calls on UK to help as he starts hunger strike

Environmentalist’s family ‘truly devastated’ he was not freed with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori last week

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 22 March 2022 14:07 GMT
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Daughter of British-US national detained in Iran calls on UK to secure his release

The family of a British-American man held prisoner in Iran have called on the UK government to secure his release, saying they currently feel “very abandoned” by ministers.

Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist who also holds Iranian citizenship, was imprisoned on vague espionage charges in 2018 while he was doing conservation work. He was later sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The 66-year-old, who has cancer, has recently gone on hunger strike, according to his relatives.

Last week, he was released on furlough as part of a British government deal with Tehran, which saw the full release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori. The development came after UK ministers agreed to pay a long-standing debt to Iran.

However, Mr Tahbaz’s lawyer said he only spent two days at his family’s home in Tehran, before he was forced to return to Evin Prison, allegedly to be fitted with an ankle tag.

“Unfortunately, we have no idea if or when he is going to be released,” Hojjat Kermani said.

Roxanne Tahbaz (left), whose father is detained in Iran, attends a press conference with Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on 21 March, 2022.
Roxanne Tahbaz (left), whose father is detained in Iran, attends a press conference with Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on 21 March, 2022. (PA)

Speaking in London on Monday, Mr Tahbaz’s eldest daughter Roxanne said her family were “truly devastated” that he had been “left behind” in Iran.

Ms Tahbaz told a press conference, held with the recently freed Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, she had received assurances from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) that her father would be part of any deal to free detained British citizens.

However, her family discovered in media reports that only Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori had been released, she said.

“We beg you to stand by your word,” she urged the British government.

Morad Tahbaz is still in Iran
Morad Tahbaz is still in Iran (Morad Tahbaz/Facebook)

Her aunt Tahrane Tahbaz also spoke of the family’s horror. “[Morad] is in despair and we are in despair and we no longer know what else we can do,” she said on Monday.

She told the BBC Radio 4 programme: “We’re just very, very worried that all of this is just going to get swept under the rug.

“We feel very abandoned. His condition remains dire, and we just don’t know how long this is going to take.”

The US state department said it was aware of reports Mr Tahbaz had been sent back to prison, and was in contact with British authorities about the move.

“Iran made a commitment to the UK to furlough Morad Tahbaz,” it said. “We are not a party to this arrangement, but would join the UK in considering anything short of Morad’s immediate furlough a violation of Iran’s commitment.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe spoke for the first time since her detention in Iran today
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe spoke for the first time since her detention in Iran today (Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Over in the UK, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has told the British government to “double down” on Mr Tahbaz’s case.

“We want to see everybody who’s in captivity in Iran back, you know, where they want to be with their familie,” he said.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is now back in the UK after spending six years in an Iranian jail, said her freedom would never be complete until all political prisoners in Iran were freed.

“I believe that the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete as to such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families,” she said.

“He [Morad] should have been on the same flight as us,” Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe added.

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