Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back with her family after six-year ordeal

The British-Iranian charity worker was reunited with her husband and daughter amid emotional scenes at RAF Brize Norton.

Geraldine Scott
Thursday 17 March 2022 10:25
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrive at RAF Brize Norton (Leon Neal/PA)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrive at RAF Brize Norton (Leon Neal/PA)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is back with her family following her dramatic return to Britain after six years in detention in Iran.

The British-Iranian charity worker was reunited with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and their seven-year-old daughter Gabriella amid emotional scenes at an RAF air base in the early hours of Thursday.

She was released, along with fellow dual-national, Anoosheh Ashoori, after Britain finally agreed to settle a £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.

Family and friends said that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband – who campaigned tirelessly for her release – would have to spend time getting to know each other again after so long apart.

Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Ratcliffe, said they were looking forward to enjoying the normal experiences other families take for granted.

“They have lived apart for such a long time, had such different experiences, they are not going to go back to how they were before. Of course they won’t,” she told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being reunited with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella (Tulip Siddiq/Twitter/PA)

“They are never going to be a normal family. I think there is an element of having those normal experiences that they haven’t been able to for such a long time.

“Go swimming together, go to the supermarket together, go out for walks – all those things the rest of us take for granted when we have got children that they are looking forward to.”

The two former detainees touched down at RAF Brize Norton at just after 1am, and a video posted on social media showed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugging and kissing her young daughter while Mr Ashoori’s family sobbed with joy.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained for six years after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Mr Ashoori, who was detained in Evin prison for almost five years, was accused of spying.

Both have consistently and vigorously denied the allegations.

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said the negotiations with the regime in Tehran had proved “incredibly difficult”, not least because of the “huge number” of sanctions imposed on Iran.

Screengrab of a tweet posted by Elika Ashoori of her father Anoosheh Ashoori and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being reunited with their families (Elika Ashoori/PA)

He said they had taken “every precaution” to ensure the money paid to settle the outstanding debt for an order of British tanks which was never delivered would be used purely for humanitarian purposes.

“We owed this debt, we accepted that debt. Obviously, the sanctions position made it incredibly difficult – you cannot just write a cheque,” he told Sky News.

“The details of how we have done it have to remain confidential, but it has taken a huge amount of work to come up with a method of ensuring that money is for humanitarian purposes and that it conforms to the sanctions regime.”

Mr Cleverly said the Government was working to secure the return of a third dual-national, Morad Tahbaz – who also has US citizenship – who was released from prison on furlough.

“He also has American nationality, which has in the eyes of the Iranians – not in ours – made his case more complicated,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“We will continue to work to secure his release and, obviously, we work in close co-ordination with the US on these issues as well.”

An emotional video of the reunions was shared live on Instagram by Mr Ashoori’s daughter Elika as the two former detainees disembarked from the plane.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella was heard asking “is that mummy?” and again shouted “mummy” as her mother walked down the plane’s stairs.

Mr Ratcliffe shook Mr Ashoori’s hand, as Gabriella appeared to run towards her mother, who was out of shot. She then carried the little girl in her arms as they were surrounded by other family members.

Mr Ashoori was then reunited with his family, who were in tears as they embraced.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe then appeared in the video and hugged and kissed her daughter, and asked her “do I smell nice?” before holding her hands.

She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was at the air base to greet them, said they were all in “very, very good spirits”.

“I think it’s been a really difficult 48 hours, the expectation that they would be released, but we weren’t sure right until the last moment,” she said.

“It’s been very emotional, but also a really happy moment for the families, and I’m pleased to say that both Nazanin and Anoosheh are in good spirits and they’re safe and well back here in Britain.”

The release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori follows months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran.

They were initially taken to the Gulf state of Oman, which has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom.

Mrs 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 her daughter to her parents.

Mr Ashoori was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran.

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