Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed from house arrest but ‘remains in harm’s way’, says husband

‘Beyond cruel to toy with an innocent mother in this way,” says Jeremy Hunt as British-Iranian aid worker faces fresh court hearing next week

Tom Batchelor
Sunday 07 March 2021 23:08
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‘Beyond cruel ,’ says Jeremy Hunt

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is "genuinely happy" to be freed from house arrest in Iran but "remains in harm's way", her husband has said.

The British-Iranian aid worker had her ankle tag removed on Sunday after completing a five year sentence on disputed charges of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment.

However she will have to appear before a court again in relation to a second case next week, renewing fears Iran will continue to try and use her as a political pawn in what has been described as “hostage diplomacy”.

Her husband Richard Radcliffe described it as a "mixed day for us". In a message to Press Association, he said: "Nazanin is genuinely happy... She is having a nice afternoon, has turned her phone off and is not thinking about the rest of it.

"But she remains in harm's way, even if today she is determined not to feel it."

He added: "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."

Before the news broke about the removal of the tag, he had told the BBC that Nazanin had recently become more fearful that she was going to be taken to prison again. He added: "It seems to me there is a debate in Iran about what to do, but we are not out of the woods. Until she is on a plane and it is out of Iranian airspace, anything is possible."

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, called for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be allowed to return to the UK.

He tweeted: “We welcome the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but Iran continues to put her and her family through a cruel and an intolerable ordeal.

“She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK. We will continue to do all we can to achieve this. We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable.”

Boris Johnson added: “Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable.”

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who granted diplomatic protection to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe in March 2019, tweeted to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif that it was “beyond cruel to toy with an innocent mother & six year old child in this way... She has served five years: let her come home.”

He told the BBC that she had to pay the rent for her ankle tag when it was taken off and said that Richard Ratcliffe was “right to fear that what Iran is really looking for is diplomatic leverage with this horrific hostage diplomacy.”

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency where Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe‘s family live, said: “Today’s news on Nazanin is bittersweet for all those who have fought so hard for her freedom. Relieved that her ankle tag has been removed, but she needs her British passport back and a flight back to the UK. “ She revealed that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s first trip after leaving house arrest would be to visit her grandmother.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe‘s lawyer, Hojjat Kermani,  told an Iranian website that her next court hearing in relation to a second case had been “scheduled at branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran”.

Kate Allen, director at Amnesty International UK, said: “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.

“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.”

Iran’s judiciary officials have yet to comment on the release.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, urged the government to impose sanctions if Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not allowed to return home.

She said: “The foreign secretary must make it clear that if Nazanin is sentenced a second time, the UK Government will impose Magnitsky sanctions. This is a crucial week to secure Nazanin’s freedom. Strong words must be backed by the threat of real action if the Iranian authorities do not do the right thing.

“Nazanin has been unlawfully held for five years, and the UK government must do everything in its power to bring her home to her family immediately.”

Prior to her arrest, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe lived in London with her husband and worked as a project manager for the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling with her young daughter, Gabriella, to celebrate the country’s new year and to visit her parents in 2016.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in solitary confinement in an unknown location in Kerman Province, 1,000km south of Tehran.

The 42-year-old was released from prison last spring because to the coronavirus pandemic, but has been kept under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran for the past year.

Her detention has been linked to the UK’s historic debt to Iran of as much as £400 million over the non-delivery of tanks in 1979, with the shipment stopped because of the Islamic revolution.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has acknowledged the debt is due when the issue was raised in the House of Commons last November but insisted the debt and Nazanin’s imprisonment were “unrelated issues”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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