Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe prepares to fly home following Iran ordeal

The British-Iranian mother and another dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, arrived in Oman after being released from detention in Iran.

David Hughes
Wednesday 16 March 2022 17:32 GMT
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe/PA)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe/PA) (PA Media)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home, after her six-year ordeal in Iran was brought to an end as the UK Government settled an outstanding £400 million debt owed to the regime in Tehran.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe, who fought a tenacious battle to secure her release, said it meant “we can stop being a moment in history and start being a normal family again” and together with their daughter Gabriella they were “looking forward to a new life”.

The British-Iranian mother is returning to Britain, along with a second dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori.

A third British detainee, Morad Tahbaz, has been released from prison on furlough.

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 Gabriella to her parents.

Mr Ashoori has been in prison for almost five years while Mr Tahbaz has been held for four.

Their release follows months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We have the deepest admiration for the resolve, courage and determination Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad, and their families, have shown.

Anoosheh Ashoori (Family Handout/PA)
Anoosheh Ashoori (Family Handout/PA) (PA Media)

“They have faced hardship that no family should ever experience and this is a moment of great relief.”

Mr Ratcliffe has long claimed that his wife was being used as a pawn in a dispute between the UK and Iran over the unpaid debt linked to an arms deal.

The UK has paid the £393.8 million owed to Iran after it cancelled an order of Chieftain tanks following the overthrow of the shah in the revolution of 1979.

In a statement, Ms Truss confirmed the debt had been settled “in parallel” with the release of the detainees.

She said it had been done “in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations”.

She added: “These funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods.”

Sanctions on the Tehran regime had been one of the key sticking points in being able to settle the debt.

After a nervous wait for final confirmation of their release from Iran, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori were initially taken to the Gulf state of Oman, which has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom.

Oman’s foreign minister, Badr Albusaidi, posted a picture of them arriving at the airport, adding: “Soon they will be with their loved ones at home.”

From there it is expected they will be flown on a Government-chartered flight to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

In the Commons, with Mr Ratcliffe and Gabriella, seven, watching, Ms Truss 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, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, told the Commons: “I want to pay tribute to my constituent Richard Ratcliffe for his relentless campaigning, but I also think he’s really set the bar high for all husbands.”

Mr Ratcliffe campaigned tirelessly for her release, including staging a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office.

He said: “It is going to be lovely to see her, lovely to catch up with her.”

Mr Ratcliffe said he had been “kept out of the loop” on discussions about settling the arms debt, but “I’m relieved the problem has been solved”.

He said his wife had asked him to make her a cup of tea when she arrives in the UK.

Speaking alongside Gabriella, he added: “I think actually we were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, so there might be a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy when she comes back.”

In a  statement the family of Mr Ashoori said: “This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.

“1,672 days ago our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was unjustly detained and taken away from us. Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place.”

But Mr Tahbaz remains in Iran, effectively under house arrest.

Ms Truss said his position was complicated because he is a British-Iranian-US tri-national.

“That is seen in Iranian eyes as also meaning that the US are involved,” she said.

“And we are working very closely with the US. We have secured his release from prison. Of course we want to see him come home, and we will continue to work to achieve that with our US partners.”

While there were plaudits in the Commons for Ms Truss and the Foreign Office finally securing Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was singled out for criticism.

In 2017, as foreign secretary, he wrongly told MPs that she had been training journalists at the time of her arrest – something which the Tehran regime seized on as proof that she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Ms Truss “showed more skills in diplomacy than her bungling boss”.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, Mr Johnson said he was “thrilled” that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was finally free.

“We must always realise that, sadly, the regime in Tehran is capable of holding people in this way. I think that people do need to recognise that,” he said.

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